Tight victory breathes life into Durham
Durham 102 and 200 (Borthwick 41*, Finn 4-80) beat Middlesex 185 (Rogers 59) and 102 (Rushworth 4-41, Onions 3-38) by 15 runs
At 3.20pm on Saturday Durham wicketkeeper Michael Richardson had just been dismissed. His team was 36 runs ahead of Middlesex in the second innings with three wickets remaining. The visitors appeared to be in total control. Then the rain came and kept the players off the field for 70 minutes. If this was a game of two halves, then that rain break, though of course nobody knew it then, was the half time interval.
Durham won early on Sunday afternoon by 15 runs, prompting scenes of ecstatic celebration among their players on the outfield. This was their first Championship victory of the season and, had they lost again in a tight finish, as they had done against Sussex last week and Lancashire at the beginning of June, then they would surely have been doomed to relegation from Division One.
Indeed at times when they were in the field on Friday and Saturday their body language suggested that they might already have given up the ghost. As it is, while the 19 points they have gained from this match will give them hope, and no doubt provide an injection of confidence, Durham must still be favourites to make the drop.
Their recently appointed four-day captain, Paul Collingwood, was a satisfied man after the finish, and calmly bullish about his side's chances of continuing to make progress. He confirmed the view from the boundary that during the Saturday afternoon rain break he had encouraged Scott Borthwick and Callum Thorp to bat with controlled aggression, and it was their partnership of 60 in eight overs that shifted the balance of power in the match.
A compelling morning of cricket seemed highly likely as Middlesex resumed their innings needing 60 runs to win with five wickets in hand. A healthy crowd turned up to see a day that, short as it might be, promised much. In the first hour the contest remained even, Middlesex reducing their target to 23 and Durham taking two wickets.
The first fell before a run had been added. Durham's reserve wicketkeeper, Richardson, had an excellent match, making useful runs in the lower middle order and taking five catches. The first of his two catches on the third day saw the end of his Middlesex counterpart John Simpson. Graham Onions, who bowled unchanged from the Finchale End, found the inside edge of the left hander's bat and Richardson dived low to his right to take a spectacular catch at the second attempt.
Gareth Berg, whose 37 in Middlesex's first innings had been so useful in a low scoring match, also went to an excellent catch. When Chris Rushworth served up a short one outside the off stump Berg could not resist slashing at it, and the man at first slip leapt up and backwards to pluck it one handed out of the sky. Everyone only stopped being amazed when we realised that the catcher was Collingwood.
The end, when it finally arrived, came quickly. Richardson and Onions combined again to end Toby Roland-Jones' impressive rearguard 34. Collingwood had delayed introducing Ben Stokes to the attack, but he timed the change brilliantly and Stokes mopped up the last two wickets.
Ollie Rayner survived a huge appeal for caught behind off Onions, but had only added one more run when Stokes bowled him with a fast yorker. Then Stokes decided to go round the wicket to the left handed Tim Murtagh and when the ball feathered the outside edge the game was over.