Middlesex teeter in small chase
Middlesex 58 for 5 (Rushworth 3-22) and 185 need a further 60 runs to beat Durham 102 and 200 (Borthwick 41*, Finn 4-80)
At the end of a second enthralling day this match was more evenly poised than had seemed likely before the weather intervened this afternoon. Paradoxically, a change in conditions, which at first favoured Middlesex, seemed to inspire Durham later in the day. Middlesex finished the day on 58 for 5 and will need to grind out 60 more runs on Sunday in order to gain a victory that appeared inevitable earlier in the day.
At no time in this match prior to the heavens opening at 3.20pm was there any doubt which of these teams was in control. Seventy minutes later play resumed with a Durham on 119 for 7, a new batsman at the crease, and the teams only 36 runs ahead of Middlesex. For the next eight overs it was evident that Paul Collingwood had instructed his men to take the positive route out of trouble, and in no time sixty runs had been added by the new partnership of Scott Borthwick and Callum Thorp. After Thorp had gone Borthwick continued to bat with enterprise and finished 41 not out with eight boundaries.
When the Durham innings closed on 200, statistical logic suggested that Middlesex would overhaul their target of 118 with some ease, as each innings score had surpassed its predecessor. Yesterday there had been periods when Durham, in the field, looked beaten, their body language suggesting a lack of morale and confidence which, given their trials in the Championship this season, would be understandable.
As soon as Middlesex's second innings began, however, there were no signs of any of that, and within eight balls they had lost both openers, Sam Robson and Chris Rogers, to be 0 for 2. Joe Denly, a regular opener himself when at Kent, shored the innings up for a brief period but when Thorp, who had taken 3 for 50 in the first innings, entered the attack he immediately had Denly caught by Borthwick at slip. In the meantime Chris Rushworth had dismissed both Dawid Malan and Eoin Morgan lbw, the former to a ball that kept somewhat low.
Middlesex started the day 42 runs ahead with three wickets in hand, no doubt apprehensive that they were to find Ben Stokes in the hostile form he had shown on the first day. Stokes opened the bowling and continued where he had left off the previous day, causing a pause in proceedings while Tim Murtagh received treatment after being hit on the helmet by a short ball. Murtagh was able to continue, though, and was finally out caught at the wicket for 25 valuable runs off Graham Onions. The other two Middlesex dismissals also fell to wicketkeeper Michael Richardson, Gareth Berg, the mainstay of the innings, falling to a particularly fine tumbling catch.
Durham's innings that followed was an affair of stops and starts, with their three middle-order mainstays - Dale Benkenstein, Paul Collingwood and Ben Stokes - all getting in, then getting out. But then the rain came and Borthwick and Thorp took the game by the scruff of the neck.
Test selector James Whittaker spent the last two days at Chester-le-Street, no doubt running the rule over Steven Finn and Graham Onions, but he might well have made a note about Stokes as well.