Late wickets sour Durham's day
Durham 44 for 3 v Nottinghamshire 270
Alex Hales provided more evidence that Nottinghamshire's long search for a consistently productive opening partnership is at least half complete but Durham emerged in better shape than they might have expected from a day that threatened to put their title challenge under real pressure, even though they have some work to do after closing on 44 for 3 on a surface producing some disconcertingly variable bounce.
Presented with a pitch not much more than a firm push from the boundary on the Bridgford Road side, Notts captain Chris Read took the decision to bat first for only the second time at Trent Bridge this summer. As the day unfolded, it seemed he may have been thinking as much about not batting last, but one would imagine he would have wanted to give his bowlers at least 320 to defend.
Instead, Notts fell 50 runs short of that, scraping a second batting point thanks only to a boisterous cameo from Darren Pattinson, who celebrated his recall under the county's fast-bowler rotation policy by smashing three sixes in his 18-ball 28.
Hales made his second century of the season, indeed his second in his last three Championship innings here, which will please Mick Newell even more given this ground's reputation as a graveyard for opening batsmen. No problem has etched more lines on the face of the Notts director of cricket than the search for a winning combination at the top of the order but Hales at least seems to have got Trent Bridge's measure.
His 115 took his aggregate in the 2011 Championship to 795 from 10 matches at 49.68. He had a few hairy moments and should have been out on 96 when he steered a ball from Mitch Claydon into the hands of Callum Thorp, who spilled a straightforward chance at gully. Otherwise, the 22-year-old played with the authority Newell will hope to see from both his openers when Michael Lumb arrives from Hampshire next season.
Given that, even taking into account the absence of Samit Patel - also on England duty - it was understandable for Newell to be disappointed with 270 all out. Karl Turner, who opened with Hales this time, misjudged a ball from Thorp that clipped the top of off stump as he offered no shot, and Darren Bravo, having looked in the mood to take full advantage of the short boundary, fell on 23, reaching into an expansive drive off Ruel Brathwaite, which he edged to the keeper.
Nonetheless, 130 for 2 should have been a platform for better. Yet Riki Wessels, who had contributed only three singles in a stand of 51 with Hales, dangled his bat out to Claydon to give Phil Mustard the second of his four catches and Steven Mullaney thin-edged a pull, both men out in single figures.
Mullaney's wicket was a first in the Championship for the debutant Mark Wood, a 21-year-old who hails from Stephen Harmison's home town of Ashington. Considerably shorter and with a whippy action, Wood has little else in common with the former England speed merchant and has on odd run-up that begins with him pushing off as if from a sprinter's starting blocks and ends almost on the wrong foot. But he accredited himself reasonably well after a difficult start. He claimed a second wicket when Pattinson holed out to mid-off and would have had a decent day all round had he not spilled a skyer from Andre Adams at backward point off Brathwaite.
Chris Read dabbed at one that kept low to be caught behind before Hales, perhaps becoming frustrated after Ian Blackwell's accurate left-arm spin had stemmed the flow of runs, was caught on the square leg boundary with a miscued pick-up after Brathwaite had come back into the attack.
Notts habitually find redemption in the lower order but after Adams had flailed away briefly and perished in predictable fashion on the long-off boundary, only Paul Franks was able to offer a shot in the arm this time and, after seven boundaries, his contribution was cut short when Claydon got one to move away enough to induce an edge to second slip, after which Graeme White was leg before trying to turn Blackwell into the leg side.
Pattinson's three sixes, all off Claydon to the short boundary, included one that was caught by Brathwaite but effectively carried the fielder over the rope and another that was almost one-handed.
Those big blows evidently put an extra spring in Pattinson's step and the Notts bowlers in general were able to exploit the vagaries in the surface to greater effect than their Durham counterparts.
Luke Fletcher made one climb on Di Venuto, whose cut became more of a swish, Hales taking the catch at first slip. Then Pattinson brought one back to bowl Will Smith, who became the second batsman out on the day shouldering arms, and produced a fine, swinging delivery that Mark Stoneman edged to third slip to leave the visitors 27 for 3.
After that, Paul Collingwood and Dale Benkenstein did well to weather the closing overs before a sharp bouncer from Fletcher in fading light prompted the umpires to terminate play a couple of overs early.