Graham Clark century drives Durham back into box seat

Durham 393 for 9 (Clark 100, de Leede 65, Borthwick 53) vs Gloucestershire

Graham Clark scored his first hundred in six years to put Second Division leaders Durham in control on the opening day of the LV=County Championship match against Gloucestershire at the Seat Unique Stadium in Bristol.

Encountering a flat pitch and batter-friendly weather for the first time this season, the visitors won the toss and ran up 393 for 9 by the close, thanks in large part to a superb partnership of 124 in 34.4 overs for the sixth wicket between Clark and Bas de Leede. There was also a half century for captain Scott Borthwick, while opener Alex Lees and in-form wicketkeeper-batsman Ollie Robinson contributed 41 and 40 respectively.

A Gloucestershire side deprived through injury of captain Graeme van Buuren, experienced strike bowler Merchant de Lange and leading wicket-taker Tom Price fought hard throughout, chipping away at the top and middle order and making Durham graft for their runs on a typically slow Bristol pitch. Slow left armer Zafar Gohar claimed 4 for 104 and seamer Ajeet Singh Dale 2 for 73 as the hosts stuck to their task manfully.

But the visitors at last took control in the final session, Clark raising exactly 100 from 155 balls, with 13 fours and a six, and de Leede, making only his third first-class appearance, registering a Championship-best score of 65 to put their side in credit.

Top of the table after three wins from five games and brimful of confidence, Durham have gained a reputation for playing ‘Bazball’ style cricket this season. But they were made to think twice by Singh Dale, who has put on a yard of pace over the winter.

Bending his back and summoning no little bounce and movement off the seam, he accounted for Michael Jones in the third over, the Scottish batsmen failing to offer a shot and looking back in horror as off and middle stumps were dislodged. It was far from plain sailing for the visitors and Borthwick was handed a life on 20 when edging debutant Zaman Akhter to second slip where the usually reliable Chris Dent allowed opportunity to slip through his fingers. He then survived a confident lbw appeal from the same bowler as Gloucestershire’s seamers continued to make life difficult.

Having grafted their way to 50 in the first hour, Durham’s second wicket pair moved up through the gears, Lees in particular going after slow left armer Zafar. Still to find the rhythm that begets consistency of line and length, Akhter also proved expensive.

Under pressure, Gloucestershire stood their ground and were rewarded when Lees, having crafted 41 from 64 balls, drove Shaw to backward point where Zafar took a startling catch. Having shared in a stand of 71 for the second wicket, Borthwick then added a further 63 in partnership with David Bedingham either side of lunch as Durham flourished. Borthwick went to 50 from 73 balls via his ninth four, punched through mid-off at the expense of Dale.

Once again, Gloucestershire stuck to their task and Borthwick, having assiduously avoided being tempted by the short ball, nevertheless fell into a carefully-laid trap, pulling Dale and succumbing to a brilliant catch by Miles Hammond at backward point for 53. When Bedingham clipped Matt Taylor to mid-wicket in the next over, Durham were 149 for 4, their position of strength in serious danger of being eroded.

New batsmen Robinson and Clark attempted to wrest back control in a diligent alliance of 65 in 16 overs for the fifth wicket, only for the former to bottom edge a catch behind off Zafar and depart for 40 when a fourth half century of the season appeared his for the taking.

Reduced to 214 for 5 and still just about being held in check, Durham were thereafter indebted to Clark and de Leede, who worked hard to wrestle back the initiative and at last confirm northern supremacy during the final session.
Playing for only the second time this season, de Leede matched Clark blow for blow in a resilient innings that spanned 117 balls and included 11 fours.

The Dutchman was looking to become more expansive when he fell to the new ball in the last hour, stumped by stand-in Gloucestershire captain James Bracey off the bowling of Zafar.

Gloucestershire’s overseas hired hand recovered well after his first four overs went for 33 in the morning session, pinning Ben Raine lbw for two to lead a spirited fightback in the early-evening sunshine. But the indomitable Clark still had the final say, working Zafar to square leg and punching the air before even he had completed the single which signaled his first century since 2017.

He was out next ball, trapped lbw by Zafar, and there was still time for Akhter to claim his first Championship wicket, Hammond taking a stunning diving catch at point to remove Matthew Potts without scoring.

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