Northants' last pair hold out
Northants 378 (Spriegel 97) and 205 for 9 (Middlebrook 47, Newton 48*, Onions 3-48) drew with Durham 452 (Mustard 91, Richardson 80) and 244 (Richardson 59, Middlebrook 5-62)
Rob Newton summoned the chief resistance as Northamptonshire began life back in Division One with a heartwarming draw with the last pair at the crease after the defending champions, Durham, looked to have rediscovered their knack of winning from unexpected positions.
Newton had barely any pre-season after breaking his thumb fielding but before his mishap occured he had worked on his defensive technique over the winter. All of it was needed as Northants tried to survive the final nine overs with nine wickets down and Newton guided Muhammad Azharullah through to the close with Azharullah blocking out the final over.
"I think we deserved the draw," Newton said, having batted for over three hours and faced 137 balls. "It would have been hard on us had we lost that game because I don't think we played any poor cricket for four days against the champions. It showed us how hard first division cricket is."
Northants looked to have been outstayed as the game slipped away from them on the final day. They were five down by tea and Durham looked to be cantering to the winning post but they were made to come right off the bridle.
Jamie Harrison knocked over Steven Crook to begin the final hour with four wickets required but Newton remained to see his side into the final 10 overs with three wickets intact. Paul Collingwood turned to the leg spin of Scott Borthwick and he struck twice in two balls but Newton and Azharullah clung on with Graham Onions dropping the sharpest of chances at leg slip four overs from the end.
In a high-scoring game and on a fourth-day wicket of no serious deterioration, 10 wickets in 69 overs was difficult to envisage. But Durham never accept a lost cause. Nailed on for relegation halfway through 2012, they fought back to survive, and last season claimed a most unexpected Championship title.
Their seamers and the unpredictable legspin of Borthwick find a way to win matches. That none of their batsman averaged 40 in the Championship last season speaks volumes of the incisiveness of their attack. Here, they worked their way steadily through the Northants line up but came up against a spirited side who showed plenty of the qualities needed to survive in Division One.
But they could do without the excess David Willey showed on the final day. He got involved in a most unnecessary spat with Borthwick. Quite obviously rattled, Willey flashed outside off stump in the next over and edged Onions to second slip, where Borthwick gleefully took the catch. It was half an hour after tea when Willey departed and Durham began to corner their opposition.
Durham knew early blows on the fourth day could shake a line-up inexperienced in Division One and nip in the bud any suggestion of Northants chasing 319 - a four-and-a-half per over target not entirely out of reach given the solid nature of the wicket.
A very occasional delivery misbehaved. Onions got the new ball to lift into the gloves of Stephen Peters which ballooned over the slips but Kyle Coetzer was less fortunate, getting a straight ball from Onions which skidded into his off stump. Onions produced a better delivery to castle Matt Spriegel.
Northants were intact after six tricky overs before lunch but lost Peters to the ninth ball of the afternoon, feeling outside off and edging Chris Rushworth behind, and were three down within 40 minutes. Having moved into calmer waters, James Middlebrook caught a crab reaching outside off and chipping a catch to point, and losing a fifth wicket to the ball before tea - Hall lbw - was the cricketing equivalent of conceding a goal in first-half stoppage time. Durham were buoyant after the break.
But having failed to close out victory, Durham may question their batting on the fourth morning. Taking a lead of 252 into the final day, there was little urgency and they made only 66 more runs at 2.64 an over, being bowled out half an hour before lunch.
Northants took five wickets on day three and prevented Durham from assuming total control. They continued to keep them in check as Maurice Chambers got Michael Richardson to chop on having added just six to his overnight total. The remainder of their progress was becalmed after Usman Arshad had ran down the wicket at Middlebrook and missed, so completing a hard-earned five-for for Middlebrook that played a large part in his side's positive result.
Alex Winter is an editorial assistant at ESPNcricinfo