Durham v Middlesex, Chester-le-Street, 1st day May 22, 2013

Durham cut the Mustard for title challenge

Jon Culley at Chester-le-Street

Middlesex 11 for 2 trail Durham 259 (Mustard 62, Collymore 4-61) by 248 runs

This is a momentous year for Durham, who host an Ashes Test in August in a ground that will, by then, have a new stand occupying the vacant area overlooked by Lumley Castle, which will not be good news for the ice cream man if he happens to enjoy watching cricket while not dispensing 99s but will give the club the satisfaction at last of having permanent seating all around the boundary.

It would be an even better year if they could regain the County Championship, a possibility raised by a strong finish to the 2012 and reinforced by three wins in their opening five fixtures this spring, even if the bookmakers rate current leaders Middlesex, Sussex and Yorkshire as better bets.

They did not look obvious candidates on the opening day here, when they came through a potentially difficult first session in good shape after being asked to bat first, only to undermine their position with a wasteful afternoon. Then again, 259 all out on a ground where runs are often at a premium did not look a bad score as Middlesex lost both openers with only three scored in reply -- for that matter, two openers with more than 1,100 runs between them so far this season.

If Graham Onions is in the mood on day two to demonstrate his well-being in front of England selector James Whitaker, Middlesex may have their work cut out to stay in contention. He certainly looked in the mood on the first evening, dismissing Robson for a duck with a ball that classically took the top of off stump.

Robson had scored 645 runs before yesterday, Chris Rogers 495, but with Rogers also gone, leg before to Callum Thorp, Middlesex sitting comfortably, 248 behind.

Phil Mustard's half-century ultimately restored respectability to a Durham innings that had threatened to subside feebly, despite Middlesex allowing three of their batsmen the chance to capitalise on dropped catches, two of them regulation. Robson put down Keaton Jennings on 30 at second slip, Dawid Malan gave Ben Stokes a let-off on 11 at first slip and John Simpson, diving across first slip, dropped Paul Collingwood on nought. But none could make the fielders pay.

Middlesex were without their leading wicket-taker, Tim Murtagh, who is playing in two one-day internationals for Ireland against Pakistan this week. Yet they were given an encouraging start when his replacement, Corey Collymore, dismissed Mark Stoneman with his sixth ball.

Durham were dismissed for 102 in their first innings in the corresponding fixture last year, yet this time took the upper hand in the morning session. Jennings and Scott Borthwick, both relatively inexperienced, steered a path to 100 for 1 at lunch, which should have been a platform for prosperity with nothing much in this pitch to suggest any difficulties lay ahead.

But Middlesex bowled with more purpose in the afternoon. Borthwick, having completed his first half-century since being elevated to No. 3, lasted only one more ball, edging to the wicketkeeper after Gareth Berg switched from bowling round to over the wicket, prompting a collapse from 108 for 1 to 149 for 5.

Stokes, who struggled after taking a blow on the inside of his knee, waved his bat one-handed at a ball from James Harris and was caught behind off an inside edge. Collingwood, dropped off Toby Roland-Jones, pulled the first ball of Harris' next over straight to the fielder at midwicket.

With Collingwood gone, Middlesex were close to getting a look at Durham's tail but Mustard and Will Smith held them up, bringing their experience in a stand of 55 and looking comfortable until Smith drove airily at Berg and edged to first slip.

The tail did fall cheaply. Collymore removing Thorp and Mark Wood in consecutive deliveries with the new ball, but Mustard stuck to his task long enough to complete his own half-century and snatch a second batting point. It may prove to be a valuable effort.