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Exiled Shrimper

Oct 25, 2003
Forget the X-Factor, Britain’s Got Talent or Strictly Come Dancing, there was only one audition to attend this weekend as three prospective England batsmen took to the crease to try and force their way back into the international reckoning.

England must now long for the days when a succession of batsmen ensured that the number three spot was not so much of a poisoned chalice as a chance to shine. Nasser Hussain, Michael Vaughan, Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook all averaged over 40 in the position, but since that quartet, Ian Bell and Owais Shah have flattered to deceive.

How England must pine for the Vaughan of yore, the classy Lancastrian who single-mindedly stood up to the Australians on the 2002/3 tour Down Under or even the Captain Marvel that led the country to that elusive Ashes triumph in the glorious summer of 2005.

That was probably the rationale behind selecting the Yorkshire batsman for the annual MCC vs Champion County curtain-raiser at Lord’s, a ridiculously early-season opportunity to impress the England selectors. Unfortunately, after almost two entire days had fallen prey to light drizzle, the selectors were joined by less than 200 spectators huddled under grey skies at the home of cricket.

Vaughan went head-to-head with Warwickshire’s Bell and Kent captain Robert Key in a bid to win over Geoff Miller and his fellow decision-makers ahead of the announcement of the squad for the first Test against the West Indies on April 18, although predictably it was a blonde-haired Australian bowler who starred in the 47 overs that were possible.

It was not the guile of Shane Warne tormenting the Englishmen, though, but Callum Thorp, playing for Durham this season under a British passport after previously representing Western Australia.

In conditions conducive to swing bowling, perhaps it was to be expected that Durham would declare on their overnight 311-4 and give MCC an opportunity to reply. Taking a positive slant, this was a chance for Graeme Onions and Liam Plunkett to impress. The young England fast-medium bowlers were even given the benefit of the slope to aid their away swing, but in their initial spells the pair both dug the ball in too short, with Worcestershire’s Stephen Moore particularly brutal on this loose bowling, scything Onions through square third man to bring the first runs of the day.

At the other end, Key struggled to pull a bouncer to the leg side, but he generally appeared untroubled before Thorp, bowling from the Pavilion End, got a delivery to stop and find the shoulder of the bat, Plunkett scooping up an excellent low catch in the gully.

That brought Vaughan to the middle to appreciative applause. Vaughan was circumspect, watching Thorp carefully and waiting patiently for the bad ball. When that finally arrived, eleven deliveries into his innings, he cut the ball square for four off of Plunkett.

The partnership with Moore, who guided the ball deliciously off of his legs when given the chance, had garnered 32 when Vaughan, who had greeted Mitchell Claydon’s arrival with a sumptuous cut shot, attempted to reproduce the resultant four and succeeded only in providing Phil Mustard with a high catch behind the stumps.

Moore continued on his merry way, contributing 45 before a switch of ends from Thorp saw an overambitious drive nicked to the wicketkeeper. In the next over, Bell, having accumulated 12 easy runs, fell in a similar fashion, offering his outside edge to another ball that left the batsman.

James Foster, knowing that a decent contribution would aid his claims to the England ‘keeper’s jersey after being named in the 25-man summer Performance Squad, joined his Essex team-mate Tom Westley with the score reading 77-4.

Foster got off of the mark with a fine off-drive before Thorp captured his fourth wicket at the end of the same over. With his previous three victims having been snared by outswingers, the Australian intelligently trapped Foster lbw with a ball that jagged in sharply.

Adil Rashid, whose six overs of leg-spin had cost 28 runs in the Durham innings, now strode out rather earlier than he could have expected, and was fortunate to survive when Mustard dropped him above his head. Undeterred, Rashid continued to cut hard at Claydon and, on his return, Onions, with three boundaries arriving in precarious fashion.

After the two youngsters had added 43, Rashid was undone by Plunkett, finally pitching the ball up, uprooting his off stump, and Tim Bresnan was later lbw to Onions for a duck, leaving Westley 18 not out in an MCC total of 126-7 when bad light brought a premature end to play.

Durham 331-4dec (Blackwell 102 not out, Smith 71 not out, di Venuto 53), MCC 126-7. Match drawn.