Collapse exposes Notts as title pretenders
Durham 174 for 2 (Stoneman 62, Borthwick 56*) trail Nottinghamshire 204 (Wood 65*, Mullaney 63, Onions 5-56) by 30 runs
Nottinghamshire were not really Championship challengers. Everybody knew that. As the county who still had an arithmetical chance of the title, their role in the grand scheme of things was to allow everyone to pretend for a day or two more. But with Yorkshire still five points short at start of play, it was faintly embarrassing for the title to be settled by 3.06pm on the first day.
Yorkshire bundled out Middlesex in 33 overs and eyes turned to Trent Bridge to see if they could prolong the wait by gaining maximum batting points against Durham. Whoops, not from 73 for 7 they couldn't. That they got to 204 and lasted 54 overs was something of a bonus at which point the title was duly settled when Harry Gurney swung blindly at Graham Onions, the stumps were shaken for the second time that over, and Onions had 5 for 56 to celebrate on his 33rd birthday.
"That's the worst we have played for a long time: we batted very poorly, bowled very poorly and fielded awfully," Mick Newell, Nottinghamshire's coach, said. "Rushworth and Onions, on a pitch that did a little bit, would be a challenge for most teams in the country and I thought they exploited what there was in the wicket very well."
By the close, Nottinghamshire's designs upon runners-up spot had been dented by half-centuries for Mark Stoneman and Scott Borthwick, leaving Durham 30 runs behind with eight wickets standing as they seek their first win in six matches. If Durham here and Yorkshire at Lord's turn positions of authority into victories that could yet leave Warwickshire with the chance of a top-two finish. The manner in which Yorkshire's closest challengers succumbed so swiftly on the opening day was slightly disturbing.
Paul Collingwood, who has just agreed another year's contract, as four-day captain once again we can safely assume, inserted Nottinghamshire on what he sensed would be a productive bowling morning. The skies were overcast, and perhaps the Nottinghamshire batsmen were downcast, this game coming less than 48 hours after their last-ball defeat in a memorable Royal London semi-final at the Kia Oval. You don't get time to lick your wounds in county cricket. You barely get time even to know you are wounded.
Peter Moores' arrival in mid-season as assistant coach has been one of several factors in Nottinghamshire's transformation from relegation possibles in June to potential runners-up, but even he would have needed a duffle bag of artificial stimulants to persuade Notts that they felt no hurt from another season when they have failed to prove their limited-overs prowess with a trophy.
Jake Libby offered the chance of a fresh outlook, a batsman unharmed by events at The Oval. He made an immediate impact at the end of last season with a century on debut against Sussex, ruptured a cruciate ligament in the close season playing for Latrobe in Tasmania, and finally returned against Durham for his first Championship game of 2015. This time there was no achievement to cherish, a second-ball duck registered as he edged Chris Rushworth to third slip where Gordon Muchall, whose contract might not be renewed despite a decent season, held an excellent catch.
That set the tone. Brendon Taylor drove to point and Michael Lumb became the first of four top-order victims for wicketkeeper Michael Richardson, both batsmen making only a single. There is always a consolation: at least Taylor could be confident that after a day like this he would not wake up in someone else's car. Irishman Barry McCarthy picked up a couple of wickets on debut, given his chance because John Hastings is supplementing the Australia one-day squad. As Middlesex collapsed at Lord's, Notts seemed set upon keeping pace at Trent Bridge.
Onions probed in that angular way of his and Rushworth, burly, shaven headed and insistent - and the country's leading wicket-taker - had the air of a better class of nightclub bouncer: not a man to mess with. Steven Mullaney and Luke Wood rebuilt with a stand of 92, Mullaney playing with sober intent, Wood with the freedom that had brought the summer's most unexpected Championship hundred, against Sussex at Trent Bridge, but even Wood was careful against Rushworth with conditions in his favour. Thank you, Mr Rushworth, would you mind if I took the liberty of a single? Get in the queue, sonny, and await your turn with everybody else.
David Hopps is a General Editor at ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps