Notts late defeat is title setback
Durham 194 and 325 for 8 dec (Stoneman 114) beat Nottinghamshire 154 (Onions 9-67) and 349 (Hales 101, Mullaney 60*, Wood 5-78, Borthwick 3-94) by 16 runs
Given that they still have to play Warwickshire, the First Division leaders, at home and away, it would be premature to declare that Nottinghamshire's title prospects can be discounted but their failure to beat Durham has delivered a significant setback.
They have three matches left to Warwickshire's four and the gap between them stands at 18 points, with Sussex now ahead of them as the closest pursuers. Should Warwickshire beat Middlesex at Edgbaston next week, while Nottinghamshire are idle, Chris Read's side would probably need not only to win both clashes with their Midlands rivals, but get the better of Surrey at The Oval too.
It was no wonder, then, that they identified this match with Durham as one they needed to emerge from with a strong clutch of points, and no wonder that they chased the result for all they were worth. They lost by 16 runs in the end in a gripping contest that went down to the penultimate over as the Durham all-rounder, Mark Wood, finished his second Championship appearance with a career-best 5 for 78. Even a draw would have been of limited value to them at this stage of the race.
For a while, it looked more likely that Nottinghamshire would win comfortably, even though Paul Collingwood's declaration, which came after he lost his own wicket in the fourth over of the morning, left them with a stiff challenge, namely to score 366 in 90 overs. Although Nottinghamshire have twice in their history scored more than 400 in the last innings to win a match, they have only three times chased down more than they needed on this occasion.
The pitch was markedly easier than it had been earlier in the contest, particularly compared with the second day, when England's Graham Onions arrived from being stood down at Lord's, found the ball swinging nicely and bouncing inconsistently and wound up with 9 for 67.
This time, Riki Wessels and Alex Hales put on 168 in 42.1 overs with no-one, Onions included, able to trouble either man unduly until Wessels, within two runs of a third Championship century of the season, received a ball from Chris Rushworth that he tried to cut but which he could only steer into the hands of one of two fielders in the gully region.
With that platform to build on, Nottinghamshire were favourites to win the match. But long chases, even with the benefit of such a good start, inevitably run into turbulent spells and Nottinghamshire hit one when Michael Lumb to- edged an attempted sweep off Scott Borthwick, the leg spinner, to be caught at short fine leg and then Adam Voges nicked his eighth ball to Phil Mustard as Onions at last found a bit of swing,
Hales, whose form has been a little below par since he made 99 for England on this ground in the Twenty20 match against West Indies in June, completed his first century of the season amid some relief but was leg before soon afterwards to a full length ball from Wood. Hales took his time to depart the scene, perhaps feeling he might have hit the ball, but there could be no argument from Read when another very good delivery from Wood bowled him.
Nottinghamshire needed precisely 100 from the last 25 overs, with five wickets in hand. On another occasion, they might have begun to think conservatively but there was no point in playing for a draw. The next 90 minutes or so therefore offered a tense spectacle.
Durham, for their part, had every interest in pursuing a win for themselves. They have enjoyed some improvement since Mustard handed the captaincy to Paul Collingwood and the goal for them was a third win in a row, which would almost certainly mean that their anxieties over possible relegation could almost be put to bed after a long time spent at the bottom of the table.
After a brief pause to regroup, Paul Franks and Graeme White attempted to raise the tempo, but Borthwick accounted for both in quick succession. Nottinghamshire are without the quality of James Taylor and Samit Patel in their batting line-up because of international calls and they felt their absence keenly in this match.
Collingwood turned down the chance to take the new ball, preferring to keep on with Borthwick and Wood. It turned out to be the right move. Steven Mullaney kept Nottinghamshire's hopes alive with a steady unbeaten 60 but ran out of partners. Ben Phillips took three boundaries in a row off Borthwick, at which point Nottinghamshire still felt they might pull it off, needing 42 off as many balls, but Wood rose to the challenge.
A couple of times he tried too hard and was no-balled for over-stepping but after Phillips had pulled him straight to midwicket he proved too good for Luke Fletcher and Andy Carter. He bowled the former twice in three balls -- the first disallowed as a no-ball -- and then pinned the latter squarely in front, which gave Durham victory with eight balls to spare.
"If we could have got to the last over, against Borthwick, needing 10 or even 15, we might have done it," a disappointed Mullaney said afterwards. "But it wasn't to be.
"I don't think it is over yet. We have only three games left and Warwickshire have four but if Middlesex can squeeze a draw out of them or even win at Edgbaston next week, we still have to play them twice. Then we will see where we are when we go to Edgbaston. We could still be in a strong position."
It was fighting talk, as you would expect. But the odds against Nottinghamshire are much longer now.