Ricardo Vasconcelos hits century as Northamptonshire edge past Durham

Cricket


Northamptonshire 254 for 6 (Vasconcelos 105*) lead Durham 253 (Raine 82, Carse 77*) by 1 run

When Alex Wakely pondered his resignation as Northants captain, he would have imagined the day when the burden upon him would finally be released and he would walk to the crease, bat in hand, without a care in the world. Once more, the sun would shine, the birds would sing in the trees and the pitches would be bountiful.

Five days after relinquishing the job, that glorious moment came. It was 11 degrees Celsius at Chester-le-Street, and if any birdlife could be seen under a heavy blanket of cloud, it was being buffeted by an untamed north-west wind.

Against the eighth ball he faced, Wakely decided to live that dream of a better future. He drove fulsomely at Brydon Carse, the ball seamed and clipped the outside edge and he duly lodged his first duck back in the ranks.

Instead, the innings of substance fell to Ricardo Vasconcelos, a 21-year-old South African, while Northants’ former captain doubtless mooched around the dressing room and, without a team to run, wondered what to do with himself.

The manner in which Vasconcelos reached his hundred, after a stoppage for bad light, and the clock past six, was something for Wakely to aspire to: a dreamily controlled hook for six of Carse which possessed such easy authority that Roy Fredericks might have quivered in his grave with admiration.

Vasconcelos tops Northants’ averages with 595 Championship runs at 74.4 and already has a Championship hundred to his credit this season with a career-best 184 against Glamorgan at Sophia Gardens on a dead pitch where both sides topped 500. On a surface that demanded good judgement, this was much more meaningful.

The cares of captaincy, or of anything much at all, have yet to beset Vasconcelos. And captaincy exhausts everybody in the end. With his 30th birthday now past, and a first-class batting average of 31, Wakely will not find adjustment straightforward, but if the game grants him the same care and consideration that his fellow professionals say he has given them then there will still be satisfying days ahead, just not in Chester-le-Street on a day where the wind moaned through the media stand so loudly that it might have been carrying the souls of every dead Durham member as they bemoaned the sight of their beloved county at the foot of the Second Division.

Not that Durham lack spirit. From the depths of 81 for 7, they would have been happy with 253, the product of the county’s record stand for the eighth wicket – 154 – from Ben Raine and Carse, eclipsing the 147 put on by Phil Mustard and Liam Plunkett against Yorkshire ten years ago. Both batsmen made their highest first-class scores, Raine perishing on 82 when Brett Hutton won an lbw decision and brought him to his knees and Carse advancing to an unbeaten 77. They will have more entertaining alliances down the order, but few of more value.

Northants, second bottom, are an unpredictable batting side. Vasconcelos, a diminutive left-hander, possesses an eager extra cover drive which once he had settled he played with fast hands and exquisite timing. But he was fortunate to survive the 16 overs up to lunch, as was his fellow left-hander Ben Curran. Both struggled at times to locate the ball. It is not known if either are religious men, but clearly Matthew 7:7 was not about to fulfil its promise.

When it came to dissatisfaction, nobody could beat Jack Burnham. A cheerless day heaped misery upon him as he dropped three slip catches by lunch. Two came in successive balls, the first a routine affair when Chis Rushworth found Curran’s edge on 18, the second down by his bootstraps at the start of the next over as this time Vasconcelos nicked Raine.

By the time Burnham spilled Curran again on 26, with Rushworth once again the unfortunate party, his captain and fellow slip, Cameron Bancroft, was gazing at him intently as if trying to solve a particularly difficult Codeword. Immediately after lunch, Burnham found himself about as far away from the slips as it was possible to be.

Carse eventually got Durham motoring with three wickets. Curran was bowled through the gate, perhaps beaten for pace, Wakely followed and, in a later spell and with the third-wicket stand with Vasconcelos having produced 99, Temba Bavuma edged to the wicketkeeper.

It is rare on such a day that Rushworth, Durham’s indefatigable seamer, does not gain a mention. Three wickets in eight balls shortly before tea put Durham back in the match. Rob Keogh, lbw for nought to one that rattled back sharply, became is 450th first-class victim. In his next over, Adam Rossington was surprised by one that bounced and Luke Procter fell to a leg-side strangle.

With Northants still 79 behind, Durham fancied a first-innings lead, but the redoubtable Vasconcelos found support from Brett Hutton and, as the lead fell instead to Northants, and the players trooped from the field for a second bad light call, with the crowd long since departed, only the souls of the dead were left to lament for a final time a season that has yielded few delights.

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