Durham slide to 67-run defeat
Nottinghamshire 270 and 245 beat Durham 195 and 253 by 67 runs
Durham's attempt to regain the County Championship that they won in 2008 and 2009 may not be over but it has grown significantly more difficult after Nottinghamshire, who took the title from them last season, sent them home with a third defeat in four matches.
Chasing 321 for the victory that would take them ahead of Lancashire again, they were bowled out for 253 as Notts achieved their aim of proving then can still have a say in determining the outcome of this year's title race.
Chris Read's side conceded some weeks ago that the pennant would be flying elsewhere next season but have not given up hope of claiming a share of the prize money by finishing in the top four. Moreover, they can have more influence on who takes first place when they face Warwickshire at Edgbaston in their penultimate game.
Durham remain 10 points behind Lancashire and have only two matches left. The other contenders, which still include Somerset as well as Warwickshire, all have three.
"We are not out of it," their director of cricket, Geoff Cook, said. "Of course it depends on other results, but it is vital that we lick our wounds and put in two performances befitting of a side near the top of the league. But realistically it is going to be tough for us now."
In theory, Durham had two days in which to chase down the further 301 they needed when they resumed on 20 for 1 but while Cook insisted this Trent Bridge pitch has been a good one, most of the batsmen seemed to treat it with suspicion and there are not enough modern players with the patience to apply themselves for long periods.
There is a tendency for batsmen to play surfaces with variable bounce and sideways movement as if one ball will inevitably have their name on it and this seems all too often to prompt somewhat gung-ho tactics.
It was no real surprise then that, one down for 20 overnight, Durham lost a wicket to the fourth ball of the day when Michael di Venuto edged the ever-threatening Andre Adams to wicketkeeper Read.
They suffered another setback in the fifth over when nightwatchman Mitch Claydon was trapped on the crease by the same bowler but the next pair did produce the level of application needed to give Durham a chance of pulling it off.
Paul Collingwood's willingness to leave balls he need not play hardly came as a surprise but it must have pleased Cook to see the much younger Mark Stoneman follow his example. The 24-year-old and the 35-year-old combined in easily the longest partnership of the match, grittily negotiating 27 overs through to lunch without further loss and adding 83 runs. It brought the target down to 203 which, with seven wickets in hand and the pitch flattening out, was one that , with due care, was not out of reach.
But the good work was undone when Collingwood was out to the fourth ball of the afternoon, driving at Darren Pattinson but not quite getting to the pitch of the ball. Read took the catch. The blow was compounded by the loss soon afterwards of Dale Benkenstein, who got into a tangle in an attempted pull when Adams made one lift and come back at him, sending the ball skywards off a top edge, Read running around from behind the stumps to take the catch square of the wicket.
There was still batting to come but, psychologically, the balance was now with Notts, more so after Stoneman met an unlucky end. Having grafted magnificently for more than three hours for his 74, he jammed down on a full length ball from Luke Fletcher but succeeded only in diverting it onto his stumps via a boot.
The rest of the damage was done by the left-arm spinner, Graeme White, whose contribution to only his 13th first-class match has demonstrated that he has more to offer than just a role in one-day and Twenty20 games.
He supplemented his three wickets in the first innings by taking the last four in the second, landing two telling blows when, for the second time in the match, he took a brilliant return catch to dismiss Ian Blackwell and then trapped Phil Mustard leg before.
Mark Wood, the debutant bowler who had been made to suffer at times in his first discipline, acquitted himself rather well by taking a positive approach with the bat but in the end was stranded on 45 after Callum Thorp holed out when Steven Mullaney held a steepling catch behind the bowler and Read pulled off a characteristically adroit stumping to remove Ruel Brathwaite.
"Stoneman and Collingwood played really well and it is disappointing that our main men were not able to take us a bit closer to the target but Notts bowled very well, in particular Andre Adams, exploiting Geoff Boycott's corridor of uncertainty," Cook added. "The fact that the game finished in three days reflected some poor batting and good bowling rather than anything in the pitch."
Durham had looked favourites to win a third title in four years when they went 23 points clear in June, having done the double over Warwickshire and Lancashire, but have since lost momentum and the absence of Ben Stokes and Graham Onions on England duty this week - and, potentially, for the rest of the season should they be retained for the India series - could not have come at a worse moment.
"I never really felt it was in our grasp because we were always a game ahead," Cook said. "We had played some good cricket up to then but people like Lancashire had played on some good wickets to get results on and Warwickshire have played some excellent cricket too, and after all 23 points is only one win, which is cancelled out really quickly."