Durham prove unstoppable
Durham 256 (Collingwood 88*, Mustard 77, Adams 4-69) and 7 for 0 need 62 more runs to beat Nottinghamshire 78 and 246 (Mullaney 72, Hussey 57, Onions 3-50, Stokes 3-55)
A potent bowling attack and a strong team spirit developed through shared goals and experiences has taken Durham to the brink of a third County Championship title.
When the weather allows, Durham will resume on the third day of the match against Nottinghamshire requiring only 62 more runs for victory.
They might have won in two days. The option of claiming an extra half-hour was discussed at the end of day two, before Durham, in consultation with the umpires, decided there was no need to hurry their second innings run chase of just 69. The weather forecast suggests that rain may prevent play until late in day three, but there is no reason to think it will do anything more than delay the inevitable.
Any chance that Durham may be penalised for a poor pitch were scotched when Jack Birkenshaw, the ECB's pitch liaison officer, left at lunch time having declared himself satisfied.
It was the right decision. The manner in which Paul Collingwood, the Durham captain, helped add 49 runs for Durham's final two wickets and reached his own highest score of the season suggested that, with proper care and attention, this pitch was demanding but not unfair. Nottinghamshire's lowly first innings total owed as much to batsmen who were unwilling or unable to graft for their runs as it did the conditions.
Most of all, it owed rather a lot to some mature and skilful bowling. Graham Onions, in particular, is a desperately tough proposition on such surfaces. His pace is no longer quite as sharp as it once was, but it is brisk and, allied to his remarkable consistency - it is doubtful than anyone in county cricket demands a batsman play a shot so often - is the ability to move the ball both ways in the air and off the pitch. It is a wonderful package of skills and, while it is surplus to demands for England, it is a precious asset for Durham. Averaging six wickets per game, he would, if he played a whole season - and he has missed only one game through a finger injury - come very close to 100 wickets.
Nottinghamshire produced more fight second time around. Steven Mullaney, badly dropped on 14 and 59, generally showed the technique and discipline to prosper in such conditions, while David Hussey also prospered against the softer ball and support bowlers.
But the fact that Andre Adams was caught at deep point, Luke Fletcher at mid-off and Samit Patel attempting a lavish drive underlines the impression that Nottinghamshire's batsmen simply lack the stomach for the fight. It will not do to excuse their recklessness with 'that is the way we play' any more than it will excuse rash driving in fog. Sometimes you have to work for your runs and, too often, Nottinghamshire bat as if they can't be bothered. They may escape relegation this year, but it will be an issue again next year unless they sharpen up significantly.
Nottinghamshire's faults should not deflect from Durham's success. Ben Stokes, who had to leave the pitch twice to have a hole drilled in a toe nail to release pressure in it, bowled with pace and Chris Rushworth, something of an unsung hero, produced beauty that nipped back to punish James Taylor for a lack of balance and a shot aimed across the line. Michael Lumb was beaten by a beauty that nipped back and Chris Read by one that nipped away.
There are some remarkable and revealing statistics associated with Durham's success. For example:
What do such statistics tell us?
They tell us that Durham possess a remarkably good attack, that they have relied upon home-grown talent - the only man in the current side who did not develop through the club's own academy system (or similar) is Will Smith, and he attended developed through what is now known as the Durham MCCU scheme - and that, since Collingwood took the helm, they have been united into a team worth more than the sum of its parts.
While it is true that Durham may have made a virtue out of necessity - they did try to bring in new players ahead of this season, but lacked the finance to do so - they key point is that they did make a virtue of it. Other sides might have wilted.
What such stats cannot show is the true value of shared experiences. As just about the entire team developed through the county's system, they have all known the head coach and former academy director, Geoff Cook, since boyhood and owe much of their success to his ability to recognise their talents and his support of them.
So when he experienced a serious heart attack in June, it shocked this tightly-knit squad. Knowing how much this club means to him, the team came together, discussed how they could help and used the experience to inspire them to redouble their efforts in tribute and in the knowledge it is what he would have wanted. When Stokes, at 22 developing into a senior player in this side, spoke at the end of play, his words had the ring of truth than no amount of press officers could ever supply.
"We did if for Geoff," Stokes said. "We were shocked when we heard what had happened. We sat down, we talked about it and we took those thoughts on to the field with us. We were doing it for him."
Kolpak signings, overseas players and big-name additions from other counties all have their place. But time and again the game shows us that there is no substitute for 11 good men playing with one purpose, with shared experiences and values, delighting in each other's successes and in the knowledge of their role and responsibilities. There is much to admire in Durham's success and much from which other sides could learn.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo