Northamptonshire v Durham, Northampton, 3rd day April 15, 2014

Collingwood faces tricky decision

Durham 452 (Mustard 91, Richardson 80) and 178 for 5 (Richardson 53*, Middlebrook 4-39) lead Northamptonshire 378 (Spriegel 97) by 252 runs

Paul Collingwood is faced with picking the right moment to declare 12 months on from a decision that almost had a significant bearing on the title. He may have been unlucky in seeing his side lose to Yorkshire last April but that result with doubtless affect his thinking here.

Durham, who have bolstered a thin squad by signing Kumar Sangakkara for a month before he joins Sri Lanka's tour of England, secured a handy first-innings advantage of 74 and then rolled along at above four-an-over on the third afternoon to give themselves an outside chance of victory.

The wicket remains in good shape and the forecast for day four is again excellent but they took seven wickets in a session-and-a-half earlier in the day and some signs of indifferent bounce suggest Northamptonshire could have to work hard to save this game.

In their third match of last season, Collingwood set Yorkshire 336 to win on the final day at Chester-le-Street and was left to curse the decision as Joe Root made 182 to steer his side to a record chase on the ground. But Root might have been out twice well before his match-winning total and to make over 300 in the final innings at Durham was a statistical anomaly.

Collingwood's decision here will factor in far better conditions for batting than could be envisaged in April, as well as the fact that Northants are not likely to be title rivals later in the season, and that the teams with Championship ambitions will see victory over the regelation favourites as a necessity. Quick runs on the fourth morning should put Durham in a safe position but last April they were seemingly well in the clear too.

"It could be difficult to judge the declaration," Durham's head coach Jon Lewis said. "We'll learn a little about how Northants went about their first innings so we've got a bit more of an idea about their batters and the way they go about scoring. It is quite short in the one corner as well so that's makes it more difficult to judge what runs per over is gettable. We'll need a few more because they scored quite quickly in the first innings."

Collingwood showed a positive intent by helping Durham to press on late in the day. His innings featured consecutive pulls for four off Steven Crook and a six over long-on off James Middlebrook, who had initially stemmed Durham's progress with three wickets and a catch at slip. He added Collingwood's wicket shortly before the close.

Middlebrook's catch gave Northants an early strike and a wicket for Maurice Chambers, who bounded up the hill in a quick opening five over spell where he went for only 13 and removed Mark Stoneman for 1; a rare double failure for Stoneman, Durham's second-leading run scorer in 2013.

Their leading run scorer last year was Scott Borthwick. If he has an international future, his batting is most likely to earn him selection. His provided some further evidence why that is likely on the third day at Wantage Road with an indifferent spell with the ball and an effective innings with the bat.

Borthwick's Test debut came almost by default in Sydney after Graeme Swann had abdicated and all confidence in Monty Panesar was lost but he was given a role he could be asked to fulfil against Sri Lanka in June as a slow option alongside four seamers. Moeen Ali is his greatest rival.

In such a position, Borthwick's batting would need to justify selection. He made over 1000 runs in the Championship last season at No. 3 with two of his three centuries coming at Chester-le-Street. He also topped the Durham averages. For England Lions in Sri Lanka, he was back down the order and had some success with the bat and a handful of wickets.

Here he played a punchy innings of 47 in 68 balls as Durham achieved a healthy scoring rate. He struck four boundaries in seven balls shortly after tea but to the second ball he faced of Middlebrook's new spell, rocked back to cut and edged behind.

His earlier spell with the ball featured, like the first innings, a full toss outside off to start, and two other long hops which were cut for four by Steven Crook. But in-between he flighted the ball nicely, lured Rob Newton to drive off an edge to slip and had Matt Spriegel dropped at short leg. He can certainly take wickets and could yet help Durham to victory on day four.

Had Spriegel been taken on 33, Northants could have been following on before the close but instead he took advantage of the miss to make only his second first-class fifty for Northants, the county he joined from Surrey at the end of the 2012 season.

He has mainly been used in one-day cricket and would not have played in this match but for injuries to David Sales and Rob Keogh but he proved his ability against the red ball and steered his side to a fourth batting point, reduced the deficit below a hundred and took some more overs out of the game.

But Spriegel too suffered from centuryphobia - being the eighth player to pass fifty in the match and the eighth player not to make three figures. Michael Richardson could have another go on day four after going to an 85-ball half-century in the last hour of play.

Alex Winter is an editorial assistant at ESPNcricinfo

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