Durham batting defies doubts for third win
Durham 163 (Philander 3-27, Hutton 3-44) and 261 for 4 (Wood 66, Jennings 61) beat Nottinghamshire 245 (Wessels 117, Rushworth 3-52) and 178 (Wood 4-39) by six wickets
Wise heads around these parts do not give Durham better than an outside chance in the Championship this season, arguing that for all the strength of their seam bowling resources they have a brittle quality to their batting line-up that too often lets them down.
It therefore came as something of a surprise to them when what appeared to be a testing challenge to score the largest total of the match to record a third win in four matches proved to be a relative breeze. Faced with chasing 261 to win on a pitch that had been difficult to bat on for everyone bar Riki Wessels, even their captain, Paul Collingwood, had his doubts. "We'll set out to be positive but it will be difficult," he had said on the second evening. "It is probably going to need something special from someone."
Maybe it did, in a way. Half-centuries from Keaton Jennings, Scott Borthwick and Michael Richardson, three of those batsmen under critical scrutiny, eased them home with the best part of four sessions to space, but only after Mark Wood, newly elevated to international status as a bowler and capable but not renowned for his prowess with bat in hand, had delivered a masterclass in the nightwatchman's art, and a little more.
Wood's job initially had been to mind one end on Monday evening as Durham sought to avoid the early loss of Mark Stoneman triggering one of the wicket clusters that had undermined them in their first innings as the ball seamed and swung.
But having done that, he began to unveil a few shots and there were moments during his partnership with Jennings as it evolved during the morning session when it was hard to tell which of them was supposed to feel out of place. Wood hit nine fours and pulled Samit Patel's left-arm spin for six, not every shot going in the direction he intended but with enough authentic strokes to demonstrate that he is no rabbit. He outstayed Jennings, who was well caught at gully off Luke Wood, and had set a new career high of 66 before Harry Gurney eventually located his off stump.
It was Wood's second half-century, beating his 58 not out, also made against Nottinghamshire, in 2013. It is an oddity of Wood's career to date that he has played against Nottinghamshire more than any other county and always been successful. In four matches he has taken 21 wickets and scored 240 runs.
"It was a big partnership," Jennings said afterwards. "If we'd lost wickets and they'd got off to a good start, the pressure would have been on but Woody took all pressure off me and the other betters and the partnership held us in good stead, Badge (Scott Borthwick) and Richo to play beautiful knocks.
"Not losing wickets here at the Riverside creates pressure on the bowlers. They try to get you out and then things happen."
It left Nottinghamshire feeling somewhat dismayed. Still searching for a first win of the season, they can already see their title prospects receding, even with a squad on paper a match for most of the contenders.
Two of their seamers were inexperienced, in 19-year-old Luke Wood and 22-year-old Brett Hutton, with only a handful of first-class matches between them, but director of cricket Mick Newell would not fall back on that as an excuse.
"I thought they were our best bowlers in both innings," he said. "But if you have a lead of 82 on first innings on this ground and lose the game you have played pretty poorly.
"There was still a bit in the pitch in terms of seam movement but we didn't swing the ball. We bowled a bit too short, a slightly shorter length than you need to bowl at Durham. It is not a difficult pitch to bowl on if you bowl well.
"It is important now that we get a win quickly. People keep telling me what a great squad we've got but we have to win games. We have a very strong batting unit but we are still trying to find the right balance in the bowling attack that is going to get us 20 wickets."