Durham is dragged back into the box seat by Graham Clark’s century

Ajeet Dale dismissed Scott Borthwick for 53

On the first day of the LV=County Championship match versus Gloucestershire at the Seat Unique Stadium in Bristol, Graham Clark got his first hundred in six years to put Second Division leaders Durham in control.

The visitors won the toss and collected 393 for 9 by the end of the match thanks in large part to a fantastic partnership of 124 in 34.4 overs for the sixth wicket between Clark and Bas de Leede, who were playing on a flat ground for the first time this season. 

Scott Borthwick, the captain, also scored a half-century, and opener Alex Lees and wicketkeeper-batsman Ollie Robinson each made 41 and 40 runs, respectively.

Graeme van Buuren, the captain, veteran strike bowler Merchant de Lange, and leading wicket-taker Tom Price were all sidelined by injuries, but Gloucestershire still put up a valiant fight, chipping away at Durham’s top and middle order and forcing them to work hard for their runs on a usually sluggish Bristol pitch. 

The hosts did an outstanding job of sticking to their task as slow left-armer Zafar Gohar and seamer Ajeet Singh Dale each took 4 for 104.

However, it was the visitors who finally gained control in the final session. De Leede, playing in just his third first-class match, recorded a Championship-best performance of 65 to give his team the advantage. Clark scored exactly 100 from 155 balls with 13 fours and a six.

Durham has developed a reputation for playing “Bazball” style cricket this season and currently sit atop the table following three wins in their last five games. Singh Dale, who has picked up a yard of speed over the winter, though, forced them to pause and reconsider.

In the third over, he removed Michael Jones by bending his back and invoking a good deal of bounce and movement off the seam. The Scottish batters failed to attempt a shot and watched in terror as the off and middle stumps were knocked out. For the visitors, things were far from easy. 

Borthwick was given a life on 20 after pushing rookie Zaman Akhter to second slip, where the always dependable Chris Dent let an opportunity pass him by. The Gloucestershire seamers continued to make life challenging for him as he then survived a confident lbw challenge from the same bowler.

After working hard to reach 50 in the first hour, Durham’s second wicket duo advanced through the gears, with Lees going after slow left-armer Zafar in particular. Akhter also proved to be expensive since she is still trying to develop the rhythm that leads to consistency of line and length.

Under pressure, Gloucestershire held their ground and were rewarded when Lees smashed Shaw to backward point where Zafar made an incredible grab after making 41 off 64 balls. 

After contributing to a 71-run stand for the second wicket, Borthwick and David Bedingham added an additional 63 runs together either side of lunch as Durham grew. With the help of his ninth four, which he blasted through mid-off at Dale’s expense, Borthwick reached 50 from 73 balls.

Once more, Gloucestershire remained focused on their goal. Borthwick, who had diligently avoided being drawn in by the short ball, still fell into a meticulously prepared trap, tugging Dale, and was eventually caught by Miles Hammond at backward point for 53. 

Durham were 149 for 4 when Bedingham nicked Matt Taylor to mid-wicket in the following over, and their advantageous position was in grave danger of being undermined.

Robinson and Clark, two new batters, made a valiant effort to regain control during a partnership of 65 runs in 16 overs for the fifth wicket, but the former was dismissed for 40 after bottom-edging a catch behind off Zafar when a fourth half-century of the season appeared to be at hand.

Durham were therefore grateful to Clark and de Leede, who worked hard to retake the initiative and, in the final session, finally confirm northern supremacy after being reduced to 214 for 5 and yet barely being kept in check. 

De Leede, who was taking the field for just the second time this year, matched Clark blow for blow during a tenacious innings that lasted 117 balls and featured 11 fours.

When the Dutchman was stumped by replacement Gloucestershire captain James Bracey off the bowling of Zafar in the final hour, he was trying to go more expansive.

After his first four overs in the morning session went for 33 runs, Gloucestershire’s foreign hired hand recovered brilliantly and bowled Ben Raine out for two runs to spark a valiant comeback in the early evening sunshine. 

However, the unstoppable Clark still held the decisive advantage, forcing Zafar to square leg and pounding the air before even he had finished the single that was his first century since 2017.

As Hammond took a breath-taking diving catch at point to dismiss Matthew Potts without scoring, Akhter still had time to collect his first Championship wicket. He was out the following ball, caught lbw by Zafar.