Durham 209 for 7 (Raine 75*, Carse 47*) v Northamptonshire
Ben Raine is the sort of cricketer who can make Durham feel Ben Stokes' perpetual absence with England a little less intensely. To call him a ready-made replacement would be asking too much because there are few players in the world with Stokes' prodigious ability. But at his best he has the same combative, dog-with-a-bone qualities and against Northants he began to prove as much.
Raine once left Durham because Stokes' brawny frame was blocking his progress. He felt like an excellent signing when he returned to the north-east from Leicestershire during the close season, a player who is combative with bat, ball and in the field. But Durham are bottom of Division Two and he went into the match against the side one place above them with a batting average of 15, suggesting one component of his game was yet to fire: an unbeaten 75 has begun to put that right.
Durham were 81 for 6 when Raine came in to bat and a ball later they were 81 for 7. Heavy rain over the weekend had left the pitch responsive to any seam bowler worth his mettle and Northants were in total command. But after 45 overs conditions were beginning to ease, Raine and Brydon Carse buckled down to the task with great deliberation and by the close their eighth-wicket stand had swollen to 128 in 52 overs.
Raine's reward was a career-best in first-class cricket, achieved in the penultimate over of the day when he cut Nathan Buck to the rope. He only has one county hundred - one of the fastest of all time, when he took Birmingham for 113 from 46 balls in the Blast at Edgbaston last season with eight fours and ten sixes. If he was to add a Championship hundred on the second day he would have discovered something very different within himself.
Neither Raine nor Carse had not lived up to their potential with the bat in the Championship this season, but their seriousness of intent showed as they laboured 142 deliveries to take their stand past 50. It was as grim-grey gravelly in its nature as the area behind the stand on the non-members' side of the ground which thankfully is getting a bit of a resurfacing in time for the World Cup.
"Sometimes I sound like gravel and sometimes I sound like coffee and cream," Nina Simone once said. If it was good enough for Simone's singing, it is good enough for Raine's batting.
Durham pessimists had been dwelling upon their most demoralising batting moments when they subsided to 18 for 4 within 11.2 overs -such as the time last season when they were bowled out twice in two sessions by Leicestershire at Grace Road for 66 and 61. It was Mohammad Abbas, with 10 wickets in the match who played the main hand in that; Raine was not even playing.
Ben Sanderson, one of the canniest operators around on a bowler's pitch, moving it both ways from a tight line, had been the main cause of such pessimism, hitting the stumps three times in a new-ball spell of 3 for 18. Michael Jones was bowled off stump for nought as he left the first ball he received and, remarkably, Durham's Australian captain Cameron Bancroft offered up a replica for the benefit of late arrivals. At least Bancroft could plead that he was partly undone by lack of bounce. Alex Lees had carried his bat against Derbyshire last week to record his first Durham hundred in similarly exacting conditions, but Sanderson bowled him through the gate.
By the time the seventh wicket fell soon after lunch, Matt Coles and Buck had also struck twice. The old roisterer Coles is on a month's loan from Essex, with Northants' assistant coach Phil Rowe calling him "a big character and a big personality".
Big is the word. He found enough movement in the pitch to remove Gareth Harte and Ned Eckersley and looked in reasonable order considering his lack of 1st XI cricket, quite an achievement because his natural shape would have been very much in vogue when Northants won back-to-back T20 titles with a side not exactly short of poundage.
Arguably the best ball was reserved for Jack Burnham, who did little wrong technically when Buck snaked one back to bowl him. Burnham had a woeful time in league cricket last season during his one-year ban for positive cocaine tests and it is good to see him slowly progressing. Cricket is right to take a tough line on drug abuse, not just because of somewhat dubious performance-enhancing qualities but also sport's general commitment to health and fitness, but in fairness to Burnham no matter how much he took he didn't follow it up by condemning such behaviour and standing for the leadership of the Conservative party.