Durham 297 for 6 (Smith 119*) trail Nottinghamshire 320 by 23 runsScorecardWill Smith snapped a run of low scores to make his first century of the season © Getty Images Enlarge
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On a day on which Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann were in county action together, it is highly unlikely that many of the spectators at Trent Bridge had come to watch Will Smith. And, after watching him bat throughout the 96 overs of the day, it is highly unlikely that many of them will be hurrying back to watch him again.
For Smith, batting is a serious business. Each run has to be hewn from his soul like a miner crushing rocks in search of gold. His discipline outside the off stump would make a Trappist monk look frivolous. Pregnant mothers or those with heart conditions need not fear watching him in action. And the word 'action' is used somewhat liberally. It is not pretty and it is not exciting.
But it is effective. Smith's marathon of concentration and denial - he resumed in the morning unbeaten on three and reached his century from his 270th ball - rescued his team from a precarious position against Nottinghamshire. He has, so far, repelled a good bowling attack on a pitch renown as seamer-friendly for 106 overs and, from time to time, he has accumulated from the short ball, the wide ball or deliveries straying on to his pads. It was just what Durham required.
Smith needed this innings, too. He had not passed 50 in the Championship since last May - a run of 22 innings - and his scores this season have been 1, 0, 15, 0, 42 and 4.
This was a return of sorts for him, too. He spent five years with Nottinghamshire between 2002 and 2006, but had never managed a century on this ground and, in his last 10 innings against his old club, had failed to pass 15. He did not give a chance and, in partnership with the characteristically obdurate Paul Collingwood added 115 for Durham's sixth wicket after they had slipped to 148 for 5 and were in danger of conceding a decisive first innings deficit. For a while it seemed there must have been a time before they started batting together - a happier, simpler time when people drove the ball through the covers - but it became desperately difficult to remember it.
Smith's excellence - for this innings has been, of its type, quite excellent - partially overshadowed the return of Swann and Broad. Both bowled tidily, though Broad again left the pitch near the end of the day complaining of 'groin pain.' The club expect a repeat performance of the previous day when, after a rub down, he is able to play a full part the following day with the cause of the problem still thought to be an impact injury; he edged the ball into his groin when batting on the first day.
Broad managed 18 overs on the day before that. He claimed two important wickets - Ben Stokes, attempting to turn one on the leg side, beaten by a bit of bounce and movement and giving a return catch and Collingwood, nibbling at one that may have left him slightly in the dangerous channel outside off - and maintained a nice, full length and gained just enough movement to demand respect.
But whether this was enough of a performance to warrant selection for the first Test against New Zealand remains to be seen. According to the Nottinghamshire director of cricket, Mick Newell, Broad is not planning on playing again before the Test, but he still looked a yard short of his optimum pace. Certainly that was the impression of Smith, afterwards.
"He was OK," Smith said, when asked about Broad's pace. "It wasn't like he was rapid or anything. He would readily admit he's got a bit more to work to do. He didn't give much to hit." All of which hardly sounds like a ringing endorsement.
It may be that Broad has the experience to time his return perfectly and is aiming to peak for Lord's. He has, after all, played nearly 200 international matches. But whether he is, at the moment, a more threatening bowler than Toby Roland-Jones, Jamie Overton, Chris Wright, Chris Woakes et al. is debatable. Certainly if Broad is to play in the Test against New Zealand, he will face tougher opposition on less helpful surfaces than this.
Swann, enjoying his first bowl in competitive cricket since March 2, was also tidy. Apart from one chest-high full toss - gratefully dispatched by Smith - he was as tight as ever and, on a pitch offering him nothing, delivered 20 demanding overs. He is currently planning on playing two YB40 games before the Test. Whether that is enough, remains to be seen.
Swann had hoped to return a game earlier. His keenness to do so, however, resulted in some swelling in the right elbow that was operated upon a couple of months ago and some concerns as to his future.
"He was pushing himself to play against Derbyshire," Newell said, "And maybe he pushed a bit early. Now he is looking for a game where he bowls 30 or 40 overs to prove it's ok. He'll probably bowl eight overs in each of the YB40 games, too.
"But I think he said he didn't want an operation again. He doesn't want to go through the six weeks or two months of rehab. He likes playing and I don't talk to him about retirement or anything like that. But, if he had the injury again and the jungle series came up, or a dancing in ice series or something, I think he would do that."
Durham had dug themselves into a bit of a hole before Smith and Collingwood's stand. The nightwatchman, Chris Rushworth, fell early edging a waft, while Scott Borthwick, promoted up the order, was drawn into playing at one he could have left and Dale Benkenstain was punished for lingering on the back foot by one that may have nipped back a fraction.
But Smith resisted stoically. While he may lack the run-scoring options of a Test batsman, he at least demonstrated the concentration of one here. And in providing a tough work out for Broad and Swann, he may just have played his part in helping England in a busy summer.