There was a pub in Chester-le-Street advertising an 8am opening this morning. There was that kind of anticipation in the north-east air. This is a series that has re-invigorated interest in England’s one-day team and Durham’s Riverside was full early.
There was eagerness, hope of another blitz of sixes, gung-ho batsmen and a happy, raucous atmosphere. Mark Wood, the local 25-year-old who has broken through this season, had spoken of regional excitement: “I think most of Ashington is coming down to see me.”
They may have done, but it didn’t turn out the way Wood and others had foreseen. If the first four matches in this beguiling series had been like four episodes of Top Gear, this was more like Wolf Hall, complete with ancient Lumley Castle as a backdrop. This finale held a different kind of fascination.
Until lunch, anyway. Then the other thing in the north-east air – rain – intervened and changed the nature of the contest and the occasion. Drama curtailed, England’s innings was reduced to 26 overs.
The drizzle ate into the day and sapped some of the enthusiasm.
Expansive had been a catch-all description of the series until today. It covered the style, the spirit and a renewal of focus.
But when the rain stopped around five o’clock, gravelly northern skies broke and evening summer sunshine arrived, we were left with a limited overs innings for the hosts. When England were 20-3 after four overs and 40-4 in the seventh, it was most limited. This did not look like the climax the series deserved, or the one the Durham crowd wished for.
Rather than Brendon McCullum or Kane Williamson, two less well-known New Zealand names came to the fore. Mitchell Santner and his slow left-arm persuaded Alex Hales and Eoin Morgan into swipes, Morgan on his first ball.
Then Andrew Mathieson, fresh from league cricket in Devon, ran to deliver his first ball in international cricket and lured Jason Roy into the sort of shot that produces more tuts than runs.
In between, Ben Stokes had got himself out, and the full stands, which had braved the weather to see the likes of Stokes prosper, hushed and grimaced.
They had stayed the course, having paid to do so. This was the second unexpected twist they had witnessed. Prior to lunch, instead of Kiwis blasting the ball out into the Durham countryside at a rate of 10 an over, we had the lowest scoring rate in the series. There was now intrigue, a different plot.
And then, in the shape of Sam Billings and Jonny Bairstow, we had Act Three.
When those two came together, England were 45-5. When they reached 125-5 there was a sense that England might be able reach the 192 target. Then Kent’s Billings was caught, superbly, by Ross Taylor, and the contest was tense again.
It was different again. Suddenly Bairstow was on 50 and the series was back in the balance. It won’t be forgotten.