There was not so much a breathless hush in the close as the grinding of a mechanical digger at work as Durham set about the task of turning the clock back to cricketing days of yore yesterday. In the south-west corner of the Riverside they were busy putting the foundations in place for a new stand. Out in the middle, on a cold, grey day, Durham were attempting to lay the groundwork for another County Championship success – the first title hat-trick for 42 years.
Brian Close's Yorkshire boys did not exactly get off to a flyer when they accomplished the feat in 1968. They opened with a draw against Hampshire at Harrogate, Geoffrey Boycott making a measly five. Durham were similarly sluggish yesterday. Unlike one Jaik Mickleburgh, Essex's 20-year-old unbeaten centurion.
Durham's pace attack was missing Steve Harmison, the Ashington Express having fallen victim to an upper back problem, and after putting Essex in to bat they only managed to pick off two wickets in each of the first two sessions – before grinding to a halt after tea against obdurate opponents who had reason to tread warily on Durham soil.
Essex's last visit to Chester-le-Street was for the Pro40 contest last September that has become the subject of a police investigation into allegations that two of their players were involved in "match irregularities". Still, the First Division new boys arrived with the boost of Alastair Cook in tow, England's captain for the Bangladesh tour having been granted permission to replace the injured Matt Walker.
The omens were not the best for Essex when Billy Godleman went for a duck in the second over, lbw to Callum Thorp. The Australian also bowled John Maunders lbw, for 11, but Cook held out until after lunch, eventually falling for 44 to a diving slip catch from Michael di Venuto off the bowling of Mitch Claydon.
When the same combination snared the captain Mark Pettini for four Essex were 102 for 4. By the close of play they were 263 for 4. They finished the day with their wicketkeeper James Foster on 66 and Mickleburgh unbeaten on 103.
Essex are examining the idea of staging some of their Twenty20 matches at the 2012 Olympic Stadium."The possibility of playing a Twenty20 game in the Olympic Stadium is too good not to explore," David East, the county's chief executive, said. Mickleburgh's measured performance yesterday would have graced any Olympic venue.Reuse content