In-form Rushworth skittles Worcestershire
Durham 215 for 9 (Stokes 78, Andrew 5-74) lead Worcestershire 120 (Rushworth 5-44) by 95 runs
On an apparently blameless pitch ball dominated bat at Chester-le-Street on the first day of a match which is for one team important and for the other crucial. Three consecutive victories in Division One had lifted Durham to a position in which victory here would virtually guarantee safety, while Worcestershire's recent slide placed them precariously at the bottom of the table, albeit with a game in hand on their closest rivals to avoid the drop, Lancashire and Surrey.
Shortly before the toss cloud began to roll in and when Daryl Mitchell made the wrong call Paul Collingwood took the initiative and sent Worcestershire in to bat. Graham Onions and Chris Rushworth took the new ball and, bowling unchanged for the first hour, reduced Worcestershire to 26 for 5. Rushworth, who went on to record career best figures of 5 for 44, and Onions removed the openers Mitchell and Phillip Hughes for nine runs between them. In his fifth over Rushworth hit the stumps of Vikram Solanki and Neil Pinner, both for no score, and the Worcestershire innings was tottering.
Amid the mayhem, almost unnoticed at first, Matthew Pardoe had come to the wicket, and the 22- year-old from Stourbridge set about settling the ship. He started cautiously but became more fluent as time passed, striking the ball particularly effectively square on the offside and through the covers. When he was caught in the slips off Onions he had scored 36 invaluable runs.
Onions and Rushworth were back in harness after lunch to polish off the innings, but not before Ben Scott had put bat urgently to ball. Scott's onslaught was cut short, though, when he tried one ambitious slog too many and skied a catch to square leg to give Rushworth his third five-wicket haul of the season.
Rushworth later said about how success in limited-overs cricket has spilled over into his first class game. "It's nice to get the chance and have a bit of confidence put in you by the captain and the coach. I feel I'm at the top of my game or as close as I ever have been. It's coming out well".
With Worcestershire all out for 120, Durham appeared to be set fair for a large first innings lead. However, they started even more shakily than Worcestershire with Alan Richardson and Chris Russell combining to remove openers Mark Stoneman and Will Smith before double figures had been reached.
Young South African Keaton Jennings, the son of Ray, and Ben Stokes came together to add 72 for the third wicket, and after Jennings became the second of Gareth Andrew's five victims Stokes became more expansive in his stroke play on both sides of the wicket. He reached fifty off 64 balls with a fierce pull to midwicket off Russell, and appeared to be on his way to put all the earlier nonsense into perspective when he played across a ball from Andrew and was bowled off his pads for 78.
Dale Benkenstein and Collingwood, the mainstays of the Durham middle order, both contributed runs which, in the context of a low scoring day, were valuable, but Benkenstein edged Andrew to keeper Scott, and shortly afterwards Phil Mustard and Collingwood were out to successive deliveries, the last ball of an Andrew over and the first of one by Richardson.
When Durham's ninth wicket fell they were 73 useful runs ahead of Worcestershire, but Scott Borthwick and Rushworth came together to add a further 22 undefeated runs for the last wicket and Durham will go into the second day needing just six more to establish a lead of over 100, which on this evidence would be a tidy result.
Rushworth, reflecting on his achievements with the ball, acknowledged that pitches at Chester-le-Street are very "bowler-friendly". A cursory glance at the scorecard would support that view.