Nottinghamshire v Durham, Trent Bridge, 3rd day August 17, 2012

Stoneman puts Durham on victory path

Jon Culley at Trent Bridge

Durham 194 and 301 for 7 (Stoneman 114) lead Nottinghamshire 154 (Onions 9-67) by 341 runs

After his devastating 9 for 67 on Thursday, Graham Onions will be have free rein to attack Nottinghamshire again on the final day after Durham established a commanding lead by the end of day three, pushing for the win that will almost certainly preserve their place in Division One and make a substantial dent in Nottinghamshire's chances of claiming a second County Championship title in three seasons.

Durham, who were bottom of the table before Phil Mustard stepped down from the captaincy in favour of Paul Collingwood, have hauled themselves out of the relegation places with two wins in a row -- during a run of five on the spin in all competitions -- and now sense the chance of putting daylight between themselves and the other scrappers.

They have a lead of 341 to take into the final day and will not need many more to feel they can declare securely and allow Onions off the leash again. Nottinghamshire, with two large holes in their run-scoring potential where Samit Patel and James Taylor would normally sit, will do well to escape with a draw.

Durham built their position of strength on a fine century from their opening batsman, Mark Stoneman, whose six years with the county have not been blessed with enough such days. The left-hander has passed 50 some 19 times in first-class matches but this was only the fourth he has turned into a three-figure score.

His career-best 128 against Sussex last August was his first century in the Championship for four years yet he batted in this innings as if it were a routine occurrence. He went to 50 off 90 balls with a four off Luke Fletcher and having proceeded unfussily into the 90s showed no sign of nerves. Indeed, at just the point at which you wondered if he might become a little jittery he produced five scoring shots in a row to move from 90 to 103 against the left-arm spin of Graeme White, the last two of which brought him his 13th and 14th boundaries.

Having not given a chance, the sequence of shots that ended with his dismissal soon afterwards made a bizarre contrast. First sweeping White, he was horribly dropped at deep backward square by Alex Hales; then, having taken a single in between, he hooked Ben Phillips and was dropped again by Paul Franks, who let the ball slip through his hands on the rope at long leg, giving Stoneman six. The next ball then shot through at ankle height to have him out leg before.

Stoneman lacked substantial support from Durham's top order. Will Smith, the junior partner in a stand of 62 for the first wicket, edged Fletcher to the wicketkeeper for 15, and Phil Mustard, after a sound start, went for 21, feathering a catch behind in an attempted pull. Dale Benkenstein steered Fletcher straight to gully.

Keaton Jennings looked comfortable until falling leg before to Phillips, contributing 31 to a second-wicket partnership of 74. Scott Borthwick was bowled by White for 4, at which point Nottinghamshire had hopes of keeping Durham's lead below 300 with only four wickets still standing.

But Collingwood's alliance with an impressive Mark Wood late in the day added 61 for the seventh wicket before Wood was caught behind driving at Fletcher. Collingwood finished the day unbeaten on 51 and -- unless Onions goes lame overnight -- Nottinghamshire are effectively out of the game.

As much as they will miss the batsmen on international duty, it is the absence of their injured talisman, Andre Adams, which has cost them heavily. His wicket-taking consistency has been at the centre of Nottinghamshire's success over the last few seasons and they have no one else who poses a similar threat. At times, compared with the damage Onions was able to inflict, it seemed Fletcher, Phillips and company were bowling on a different strip.