Collingwood errs on side of caution
Durham 259 (Mustard 62, Borthwick 52; Collymore 4-61) and 240 for 6 dec. (Borthwick 82*, Stoneman 50) drew with Middlesex 196 (Dexter 52; Onions 5-39) and 165 for 6 (Denly 73*, Rogers 54; Wood 3-36)
Friday's awful weather changed the shape of this match, denying Durham the opportunity from a strong platform to bat Middlesex out of sight and instead requiring Paul Collingwood to make the right decision on when to declare, mindful of the last time he had needed to make a similar judgment, against Yorkshire in April, when it backfired.
On that occasion, he gave Yorkshire 103 overs to chase 336 and suffered the embarrassment of watching them cross the line at a relative canter, winning by four wickets with 6.1 overs to spare, albeit after a brilliant innings of 182 by Joe Root.
This time he was always likely to err on the side of caution. With Scott Borthwick batting well, scoring a half-century for the second time in the match, Collingwood was in a position to wait for his moment, but the offer to Middlesex of 304 from 51 overs would have needed another exceptional performance, from a bowler if not a batsman, to lead to anything but a draw.
In the event, Durham's bowlers gave themselves a sniff of a chance when Mark Wood and Graham Onions picked up two wickets each in a spell that reduced Middlesex from 96 for 1 to 129 for 5 but a solid, measured performance by Joe Denly, who will have to shoulder the responsibility of opening again when Chris Rogers joins up with Australia, steered his side to a draw that leaves them second in the table, a point behind new leaders Sussex. Durham climb above Yorkshire to go third.
Collingwood afterwards said in one breath that he felt the decision was "spot on" but qualified the comment to the effect that "spot on" meant that such gains that the bowlers were able to make came with the security of knowing that defeat was out of the equation.
"There was always a temptation to pull out a little bit sooner and give the bowlers a few more overs but we knocked off 180 in 20 overs ourselves only a few weeks ago and you don't want to gift the opposition a win on a flat wicket," Collingwood said.
"Obviously after Yorkshire I'm going to be a little bit negative but I would be criticised for being too bold. I said after that game that I was still learning about how the wicket here behaves and it was pretty flat again.
"If we had not lost so much time I'm pretty sure we would have won. But as it was we were going to have to take a huge risk to try to win the game and we did not feel it was worth the risk. Middlesex might be at the top end of the league at the end of the season and you don't want to hand them that amount of points.
"But we kept taking wickets. Graham Onions was terrific and Mark Wood bowled with a lot of aggression and skill. I was proud of the way we stuck at it."
After eight wins in 13 Championship matches since he replaced Phil Mustard as captain, Collingwood's record generally is impressive and the effort Durham's bowlers put in to try to force the issue reflected strong morale in the dressing room.
It was a tall order for them to take 10 wickets, regardless of the task facing Middlesex. The aforementioned four wickets did, in the space of 11 overs, place uncertainty in Middlesex's minds and encouraged Collingwood briefly at least to think a win might be possible.
Wood, holding down a place at last, claimed the major breakthrough when he trapped Rogers leg before and then nipped one back to bowl Dawid Malan with a ball the batsman mistakenly felt he could leave. Onions, who has looked in good shape throughout, had Neil Dexter caught behind and John Simpson taken at second slip.
At this point an hour remained, time enough for the idea of an early handshake to be dismissed and the moment for Denly to show the tenacity that has seemed to be lacking on occasions lately and see Middlesex to the close.
Ultimately, Denly dug in for the best part of three hours for his unbeaten 73 and lost only one more ally when Gareth Berg was caught in a leg gully trap set by Wood.
"We missed Tim Murtagh," Rogers, the Middlesex captain, said. "We probably conceded defeat in the first session on the first day when we won the toss in conditions where it was doing a bit and we didn't make the most of it. I think Tim would have been excellent in those conditions. as he has been all season.
"Then we lost momentum in the evening session with the first two wickets going cheaply and we were up against it from that point. In the second innings it was all about getting out unscathed."