By Ollie Godden
Durham MCCU returned from a successful two-week preseason in Barbados at the end of March to the more familiar territory of English soil to begin their three first-class warm-up matches, a real test of the new recruits in the side. The first match saw them take a trip down to Bristol’s County Ground to face Gloucestershire, last year’s winners of the Royal London One Day Cup.
Having won the toss, captain Joe Cooke opted to field, a move he may have regretted 20 overs later when the hosts were motoring along at 100 without loss after 20 overs. Durham did brilliantly to reign the county side back in, however. It was Alex McGrath who did the real damage, claiming 4 of the 5 wickets to fall in the first innings. A century from Will Tavare and half centuries from Chris Dent and George Haskins meant Durham were trailing by 405 after Gloucestershire’s declaration. Durham were in trouble after their first six overs, finding themselves 14-2 with the cheap dismissals of Will Fraine and last year’s captain Jack Clarke.
The middle order of Ed Pollock, Jason Marshall and James McCollum did well to steady the ship despite periods off for rain, with the former scoring a well-made half century. Marshall batted well for his 38, stroking 5 fours and a 6 in the process and the pair saw out day two. On the final day, McCollum and Cooke scored impressively, McCollum claiming a half-century of his own. The match was called on the falling of Matt Jahanfar, with a draw to boot. A superb effort from the boys, 9 of whom were making their first-class debut. After only a couple of days rest, Durham headed back down south again to face Essex. Ryan Ten Doeschate won the toss and opted to bat. Durham made a fantastic start, rattling Essex at 21-2. The hosts recovered well though and found their feet.
Essex finished their innings on 333. Owen and Abrihaj Singh were the pick of the bowlers, claiming three wickets each. Durham’s first innings was dotted with starts and non-scores. Fraine and Pollock were the only top order batsmen to reach double figures, while bottom order batsmen Daryl Williams and Singh salvaged some respect scoring 32 and 44 respectively. A Jamie Porter-led bowling attack skittled Durham for 187. Essex came out aggressively for their second innings.
Nick Browne made 113 off 120 and a flurry of scores left Durham needing impossible 507 in the final 30 overs. Durham held firm, however, an opening stand of 44 between Fraine and Clarke, followed by some healthy contributions from Pollock and Marshall meant Durham finished on 124- 2 at the close of play, a second well deserved draw for the MCCU side. The final first-class game took a short journey to the Riverside Emirates to face a Durham side who boasted the likes of Mark Wood and Graham Onions. Losing the toss, MCCU were put into field and were made to pay for some lacklustre bowling. Durham declared on 404, having lost just the five wickets.
In response, MCCU managed just 158, with Pollock, Williams and Ben Graves the only batsmen to reach double figures. Onions claimed four wickets from his 16 overs, with an impressive economy of 1.31. Their misery was compounded as MCCU old boy Cam Steel and Keaton Jennings put on 150 for the first wicket of their second innings. The top six all contributed to Durham’s final score of 270, leaving MCCU an unlikely target of 522. They fell short of their target, however, with Cooke the only batsman to offer real resistance. Nonetheless, the defeat capped what had been a strong pre-season for MCCU, holding their own against some strong championship outfits, and captain Cooke commented that he was “proud” of the effort put in by the players. “It’s terrific to now see us play well in these kinds of tough games after all the preparation. The Essex game especially proved the talent in the squad and I’m really looking forward to starting the season now.”
Photograph: Alison Sutherland