Morris graces new arena

Warwickshire 424 and 76-4 Durham 313
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The Independent Online
IN DECADES to come the Riverside Ground will be full to its rafters. As the sun beats down on a batting paradise, the throngs will gaze smilingly on. Yesterday it was grim. Barely 1,000 people watched proceedings desultorily, on a pitch never other than sporting, and if they were not doing so in mufflers they had made a bad mistake.

At 3.12pm these hardy devotees - surely the thin crowd cannot have been a testimony to Northern softness - were rewarded by witnessing the arena's maiden first-class century. It was carved carefully out by the Durham batsman, John Morris, over almost four and a half hours, and if it was not full of glittering strokeplay it was an innings fully worthy of the occasion. Everything at the Riverside is happening for the first time, from the first no ball to getting your first duff sausage roll, but his was a genuine milestone. Thousands upon thousands will doubtless claim one day to have watched it on a blameless pitch under a cloudless sky.

If it was significant in the context of cricketing history, it was no less important in terms of the match. Morris guided Durham away from a potentially deep crisis and, given Warwickshire's willingness to fritter away their wickets in the evening, it may have done a little more. Although the fall of these was precipitated by an insistent new-ball spell from Simon Brown, it confirmed that batting was no easy matter on the new pitch.

Starting with Morris's departure, Durham's last six wickets fell for 31 runs, which might be the first collapse at the Riverside but was merely a repeat of a habit they have all but perfected almost everywhere else in the past three seasons.

Maybe they did not have help from above. After his innings, Morris was quick to point out that divine intervention had played a part. The Bishop of Durham, the Right Rev Michael Turnbull, had visited the changing-room on the previous day and told him he would be the first centurion, which might not have needed a sign from God but a look at the previous Durham scorecards. Morris and Jimmy Daley, a home-grown product on whom Durham pin great hope, played well and watchfully in the morning against some capably varied seam bowling which benefited from irregular bounce. Batting was always a test - which is perhaps as it should be.

Daley had seen off Dermot Reeve and reached 31 - he has not made fewer than 25 in seven Championship innings this season - when he prodded Doug Brown's first ball to gully. Morris ploughed on, he scored six runs in the day's first hour but eventually raced to his century with some veritable plundering: four over midwicket, another edged over the wicketkeeper, and a glance to fine leg. Thus loosened up, he proceeded in similar manner with 28 off the next 28 balls before delivering a comfortable return chance to Roger Twose.

Resistance crumbled, Warwickshire apparently assuming control of the match, though they were not without batting error as they began their second innings. Another first was also recorded. The umpire John Hampshire sported a woolly hat which made him seem either equipped for mountaineering or, from a distance, like Wee Willy Winkie. But maybe this had never happened anywhere else, either.

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