Yorkshire give themselves a good chance of ending their long winless run
The floodlights shone down on full beam throughout – giving proceedings the air of a midwinter football match – and Lumley Castle stood bleak in the distance, its flag of St George swaying softly in the wind.
A crowd of 1,011 sat huddled in the stands, wrapped up warm in headgear and coats, and no doubt praying for the onset of summer.
At least the cricket took people's minds off the cold and kept them entertained, rewarding their staying power as much as their support.
It was the fans of Yorkshire who left the ground happier, if not quite cock-a-hoop and turning cartwheels of joy.
At the halfway stage of a wicket-strewn encounter, with the ball keeping low on a sluggish surface, their team is 91-3 in their second innings, a lead of 118, and well-placed to end a run of 16 County Championship matches without a win.
Yorkshire may never have a better chance, in fact, to get their season off the ground.
They are ahead in the contest – albeit with work still to do.
The game was nicely poised at the start of day two, with mizzle in the air and the light borderline even as the players took to the field at 11am.
The Yorkshire fielders emerged blowing on to their hands in an effort to keep warm, while the Durham batsmen, captain Scott Borthwick and nightwatchman Matthew Potts, loosened up strenuously as they walked to the middle.
At 42-2 in reply to 254, and with the overheads most definitely in favour of the bowlers, Yorkshire had an excellent chance to seize the game by the throat.
They did not disappoint, rising to the challenge collectively with George Hill (4-43) and Jordan Thompson (3-55) leading the way as Durham were dismissed for 227.
Thompson struck the first blow in the day’s fifth over, trapping Potts lbw with one that kept low and seemed to skid through.
At the other end, Matty Fisher claimed a deserved scalp in the following over, drawing an edge from Borthwick to second slip, where Adam Lyth took a good catch inches from the turf.
Durham fell to a distinctly precarious 71-5 when David Bedingham played around one from Thompson that seemed to be making a beeline for leg stump before the front pad intervened, at which point the hosts were still 183 runs adrift.
They needed something from somewhere and found it in the form of the sixth-wicket pair of Ollie Robinson and Graham Clark, who combined in a stand of 61 either side of lunch and a brief stoppage for bad light.
Robinson, the 24-year-old wicketkeeper who used to play for Kent, and who is not to be confused with the England pace bowler of the same name, always seems to be a thorn in Yorkshire’s side.
A feeling to that effect compelled a look at the statistics, which showed that he had achieved nine scores of 40-plus against them in all cricket in 13 innings going into the match.
Another duly followed – Robinson’s seventh successive score of 40-plus against Yorkshire, in fact – as the right-hander proceeded to the top score of 44 from 63 balls with five fours before Matty Revis had him taken behind.
George Hill then showed why he is one of the most highly-regarded young all-rounders in the country with three wickets in as many overs to send Durham tumbling to 173-9.
First, Clark fended to Lyth at a solitary slip, then Brydon Carse was stone-dead to another delivery that kept low before Ben Raine had two of his stumps uprooted.
At 173-9, Yorkshire looked like obtaining a relatively sizeable advantage, but those hopes were thwarted by Ajaz Patel, their former spinner, and Bas de Leede, who combined in a last-wicket stand of 54 from 60 balls – Durham’s highest for that wicket against Yorkshire, eclipsing the 47 between Gordon Muchall and Graham Onions at Scarborough in 2004.
Patel played some handsome strokes through offside and on before Fisher speared one through his defences, bringing the innings to a close on the stroke of tea.
Leading by 27, Yorkshire lost a wicket to the first delivery of their second innings, Lyth edging Raine to third slip, where Alex Lees spilled/parried the chance which second slip David Bedingham accepted.
It capped an unhappy game for Lyth, whose pair was the second of his career after he suffered that fate against Middlesex at Headingley in 2013.
Shan Masood was bowled by Potts for the second time in the match, and Yorkshire slipped to 41-3 when Fin Bean – batting as a concussion substitute for Saud Shakeel, who had been hit on the helmet by Potts on day one – was caught by wicketkeeper Robinson, diving to his left, after Carse slanted a ball across the left-hander.
Now Dawid Malan and Jonny Bairstow showed all their experience. The England men took the sting out of the attack – and the situation in general – through calm, authoritative, no-risk batting.
Forget “Bazball”… this was a time for consolidation, the duo adding 50 in 18 overs before bad light claimed the final 10.1 overs.