The curiosity that tells you what you need to know about Lancashire's victory over Durham is that three bowlers produced career-best performances. There was sharp movement off the seam from the start, and a warm sun drew sufficient moisture out of the straw-coloured wicket, so that the ball swung with increasing vigour as the game wore on.
The beneficiaries were not Stephen Harmison, Chris Schofield or Andy Flintoff, bowlers who have places in England's squad for the First Zimbabwe Test. The famous men on this occasion were Durham's Simon Brown, who wiped out the Lancashire tail in nine balls yesterday morning to achieve 7 for 51. Lancashire's Glen Chapple had taken 6 for 42 in Durham's first innings and in their second, Michael Smethurst, a 23-year-old from Oldham, ran through Durham's insecure batting order to finish with 7 for 50.
A match that lasted just under two-and-a-half days gave Lancashire 17 points to place them at the top of the First Division. Durham's young team were the victims of class in every department. Lancashire's bowlers kept the ball up; the close fielders held their catches; and two batsmen produced innings that were the effective margin of victory (Sourav Ganguly's 73 and Chris Schofield's 50 in the first innings).
Australia's Bob Simpson, Lancashire's shrewd signing as overseas coach, was able to take off early for a few days in Scotland, a reward for their best start for some years.
To lose 13 wickets for 98 runs in less than two sessions looks like something worse than carelessness. It might even be the pretext for a visit from the new pitch inspectorate, but there is not much Durham can do about the extravagant behaviour of the wicket at Chester-le-Street at this stage of the season.
The ground sits next to the River Wear and the water table is high. Mix that with three days of decent weather and the result is a combustible pitch which turns early-season games into a bit of a lottery. Even so, Lancashire wanted to set Durham 275 to win rather than the 234 they needed after Lancashire's small collapse to Brown.
Durham lost Jon Lewis early, but James Daley and Simon Katich, this summer's Australian import who is used to the hard, fast pitches at Perth, moved into the early 30s as if they intended to stay put. Then came Smethurst, who is skinny, 6ft 5in and fast enough, but the quality that distinguishes him is the belligerence with which he attacks the bat.
Daley and Katich were soon gone. In an over to Nick Speak, he was no-balled for a third bouncer. Two balls later, Speak edged a rearing ball to Graham Lloyd at square leg. Nick Peng took 10 off one of Smethurst's 15.3 overs before Michael Atherton took the first of two neat catches to remove him for 12. It was one of only four scores in double figures in Durham's forgettable innings.
Riverside (Third day of four):
Durham won toss
Lancashire - First Innings 263 (Ganguly 73, Schofield 50, Harmison 4-74)
Durham - First Innings 164 (Chapple 6-42)
Lancashire - Second Innings
Overnight 128-7 (Brown 4-50)
N H Fairbrother c Speight b Brown 41 G Chapple lbw b Brown 7 P J Martin c Sub b Brown 0 M P Smethurst not out 1 Extras (lb2 w2 nb2) 6 Total (58.2 overs) 134 Fall: 1-11, 2-16, 3-38, 4-38, 5-41, 6-80, 7-112, 8-131, 9-131. Bowling: S J E Brown 17.3-6-51-7, S J Harmison 14-3-23-0, M M Betts 21-6-47-2, N Killeen 1.5-0-6-0, P D Collingwood 4-2-5-1. Durham - Second Innings J J B Lewis lbw b Chapple 2 J A Daley lbw b Smethurst 15 S M Katich c Hegg b Smethurst 13 P D Collingwood lbw b Martin 8 *N J Speak c Lloyd b Smethurst 2 N Peng c Atherton b Smethurst 12 M P Speight c F'brother b S'hurst 18 M M Betts c Atherton b Smethurst 5 N Killeen b Smethurst 0 S J Harmison b Chapple 1 S J E Brown not out 0 Extras (lb6 nb10) 16 Total (42.3 overs) 92 Fall: 1-3, 2-31, 3-32, 4-46, 5-48, 6-74, 7-86, 8-91, 9-92.
Bowling: P J Martin 9-4-12-1, G Chapple 12-7-14-2, S C Ganguly 2-1-7-0, M P Smethurst 15.3-3-50-7, A Flintoff 4-1-3-0.
Umpires: J H Hampshire and J W Holder.