Collingwood ensures Durham safety
Lancashire 262 (Smith 91, Hogg 60*, Onions 6-41) drew with Durham 416 (Jennings 70, Collingwood 114, Borthwick 60, Kerrigan 4-128)
It is only 12 months ago that Lancashire won the final two matches of the season to complete an unlikely title triumph. They face the same scenario again, only this time with a different prize, if they are to avoid relegation after Durham safeguarded their Division One status by batting out a draw on another rain-hit day at Aigburth.
Having already lost 132 overs to the weather, Lancashire's slim hope of forcing a positive result rested in dismissing Durham quickly and trying to exert pressure on the final afternoon. Despite taking early wickets, they were thwarted in that objective with Paul Collingwood scoring his first century in over a year to save the match when rain halted play with 32 overs remaining.
Collingwood's century, compiled over three hours at the crease, summed up Lancashire's frustration in attempting to claim useful points towards their relegation struggle. Two early wickets gave them a small window of opportunity, but Collingwood was dropped on 45 and 75 and allowed to forge a 148-run seventh wicket stand with Scott Borthwick that killed the game for Lancashire and all but secured Durham's safety for another season.
"I think we're 99% certain that we're safe and that was our intention coming into the game," Collingwood said. "We obviously wanted to win, but when we lost so much play to the rain, our intention coming into the final day was to get the draw. Hopefully we can stay up now and improve next year."
Simon Kerrigan, Lancashire's left-arm spinner, provided hope by dismissing Michael Richardson and Phil Mustard to catches close to the wicket inside the first seven overs of the day, giving Lancashire 42 overs to claim three more wickets and secure maximum bowling points.
Having already guided them to four successive wins since taking over the captaincy, Collingwood now stepped forward to play a relegation-saving innings. Playing carefully after the loss of the two early wickets, he gained confidence in a flat wicket and hit nine fours by the time he reached his hundred, his first since scoring 108 against Yorkshire at Chester-le-Street last summer and his first in 34 championship innings.
Typically, he dismissed the link between the return to form and taking on the captaincy, but clearly enjoyed his contribution towards securing safety. "I think the wickets have improved and I think it's more to do with that than me taking on the captaincy," Collingwood said. "Once you get into a rhythm of batting and remember how to score runs again rather than edging them all over the place when it's swinging and seaming all over the place, it's good to get back into it again."
Borthwick drilled Gary Keedy to mid-on for an eye-catching 60, while Steven Croft's offspin accounted for the final three wickets, including Collingwood for 114, but by then the game was safe. Rain prevented the final session from starting and now Lancashire will probably need victories in their final two Championship matches, at Lord's against Middlesex and back at Aigburth for the relegation-decider against Surrey in the final round of games, to also remain in Division One.
Before then they also have a potential Lord's final to play for when they take on Warwickshire in tomorrow's CB40 semi-final at Old Trafford.
"There is as much at stake as last year," admitted Peter Moores, Lancashire's coach. "Playing to win and playing to stay up are different things because if you're playing to win something there is natural confidence because you've been winning games going into it. There's a different form of mental toughness needed for both, but we know that if we finish the next two to three weeks well, we could be in a Lord's final and we could end up staying up. That's a fantastic carrot to play for."