Durham 339 for 3 (Dickson 104, Borthwick 80*, Bedingham 69*) vs Worcestershire
Stokes is batting at No.6 here which in many ways sounds a little low but it is eminently logical. It is least disruptive to a very strong Durham top-order – he replaced Ben Raine, who normally comes in around eight – and he will get into the rhythm of batting four-down as he intends to do for England.
“He is just nestling in to his England role I think,” Dickson said, “and it is a good opportunity for others to make runs before the man himself comes in. He has such an aura about him. He brings such a great energy into the squad.”
It is one of the oddities of cricket that a game can be suspended with a batter on 99 – which is a bit like wandering off for a cup of tea before taking a six-foot putt on the 18th, or attempting to convert a penalty kick. Dickson has been required to do it twice this season and, on both occasions, has survived unscarred.
Nobody wants to leave the field, one short of a century, concentration shelved for the next 20 minutes, while the cherished tones of Dave Bradley, on the Worcester PA system, turns attention to the virtues of the Playfair Cricket Annual, on sale now in the club shop, and the array of cakes in the Ladies’ Pavilion.
“I think it’s some maturity showing through,” he said. “I think in the past I would have panicked and thought ‘I want to get it before tea’ but there is so much time left in the game. What difference is me going into tea on 99 or 100 in terms of the game? There is no difference. Just go into tea, get my protein shake in, and be more ready for that extra run than I was beforehand.”
Back on guard shortly afterwards, the attractions of Playfair presumably overlooked, Joe Leach set him two backward points, offered him an over of balls outside off stump and almost had him caught at cover, the ball falling agonisingly short of Adam Finch. Ed Barnard seemed more accommodating as Dickson lay back to cut him to the boundary in the next over but only for a moment. Barnard then dismissed him for 104, edging a back-of-a-length delivery that left him a shade to first slip.
This was Dickson’s third hundred of the season, the previous coming against two of Division Two’s weaker counties, Leicestershire at Chester-le-Street (the scene of his first nervous 99 at tea), and Sussex at Hove. It is fair to say that he will have sterner challenges ahead because this was a benevolent pitch and Worcestershire’s attack has had better days, but he appears to be as settled in this opener’s role as at any time in his red-ball career. The crowd behind the arm gave him out on 57 when they burst into prolonged applause for an imagined catch at the wicket off Leach, but the umpire remained unmoved, and some of them sighed slightly before returning to their conversations.
Durham, who expected to be pushing hard for promotion, have had a slow start to the season, but they could be in business here. Two weeks ago, Worcestershire racked up 491 against Sussex and went on to win by an innings. The moisture content of this pitch is reportedly identical, as is the grass cut. And heavy cloud cover is forecast for late on the second afternoon, about the time Worcestershire can expect to be batting. They have had some tough bowling days and will probably feel they are due a bit of swing.
Dickson, like St Andrew’s Spire, was worthy of attention. The church itself was demolished in the 1940s, to be replaced by a shopping centre which has become the modern religion, although perhaps not for much longer to judge by the day’s economic forecasts.
Dickson’s county career hit an uncertain phase when he joined Durham on loan from Kent (with a full contract promised) and only made one Championship half-century in his first eight matches, but he has always possessed a limited-overs threat and he is embedded in the Championship opening spot this season.
Stokes sat, pads on, until the close, but the grand entrance of the man Dickson referred to as “the king” never happened. As gentle evening sunshine flooded upon this most pastoral of setting, and the cathedral changed to an inviting hue of Ecclestical Bronze (a Farrow & Ball colour if ever there was one) he might have felt that this was his final relaxation before the fray begins.
David Hopps writes on county cricket for ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps