Apr 302013

It is fair to say that a Will Smith innings does not tend to have spectators perched on the edge of their seats in anticipation of an explosive spectacle, but those with Durham’s interests at heart in Nottingham had only appreciation for the way the county’s former captain grafted his way to the 14th first-class hundred of his career.

The innings provided the bedrock for a competitive reply to Nottinghamshire’s 320 that seemed improbable when the loss of Dale Benkenstein and Ben Stokes left them five down for 148. In the event, they have a chance to develop a small lead in a match in which the first objective, after the disappointment of losing to Yorkshire last week, was to avoid defeat.

Again, there were concerns over the fitness of Stuart Broad, who bowled 18 overs in the day and seemed untroubled by the blow he took in the groin batting on Monday. However, he left the field again before the close, complaining of more discomfort.

Smith has endured difficult times in the last few seasons and he would draw satisfaction from a hundred on this ground for a number of reasons, among them the fact that he never managed one in five seasons as a Notts player. It was at Trent Bridge, too, that he played his last match as Durham captain in 2010, his own form and the team’s at a low ebb.

After a long period out of the front line, Smith’s fortunes picked up in 2011, but last season, again, he struggled for runs. Apart from a century against Somerset in May last year, the right-hander did not reach fifty again and was dropped for the last two matches.

So if he adopts a particularly cautious approach to his batting these days it is understandable. It took him not far short of six hours to makes this hundred and his 13 boundaries were rare distractions from the long passages of head-down application in between.

Yet after some careless moments earlier in the day, costing the wickets of the nightwatchman, Chris Rushworth, and Scott Borthwick, plus the loss of a dangerous-looking Benkenstein to a nip-backer from Steven Mullaney, Smith’s obduracy saved the day, more so given that Stokes managed to get himself caught off a leading edge when Broad got him into a tangle.

Broad had looked in good fettle. He bowled 18 overs for 45 runs, his last meaningful contribution being to remove Paul Collingwood, his predecessor as England’s Twenty20 captain, who was drawn into an edge outside off stump for a valuable 64 in a stand of 115 with Smith. His county and England will hope the problem is minor.

Graeme Swann had a decent work-out on his return to competitive bowling after elbow surgery, although there will be a wait to see if any reaction follows his 20 overs. Swann had some swelling two weeks ago, which was put down to pushing too hard to be ready ahead of schedule.

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