Wessels and Bird cement Nottinghamshire dominance
Durham 193 for 4 (Northwick 59*, Bird 4-59) trail Nottinghamshire 534 (Wessels 159*, Taylor 114, Patel 84, Hutton 74, Borthwick 5-79) by 341 runs
Nottinghamshire's season is in danger of following last season's perilous trajectory, three defeats in their opening six Championship matches again leaving them with catching up to do. With Chris Read out of the picture until some time in July with a broken hand and thus unable to organise the lower middle-order rescue act that has become his speciality, you fancy the challenge this time might be greater still.
A tough fixture against a resurgent Durham, chasing a third consecutive win, did not look the ideal moment to be relying on batsmen in unreliable form yet two of them have delivered abundant runs here, as a result of which Paul Collingwood's team is the one needing to fight back.
Brendan Taylor, whose 71 in the defeat at the Ageas Bowl last week was his first innings of substance this season, followed up with his first century for almost a year on Saturday and, after an opening passage not without difficulties, Riki Wessels matched him and more, building on similar portents of returning form against Hampshire by making an unbeaten 159, his highest score since he fell one short of a double hundred against Sussex at Hove in May 2012.
Backed up by a career-best 74 from Brett Hutton in a partnership that added 197 for the seventh wicket, Wessels enabled Nottinghamshire to build further on the recovery from 27 for 3 engineered by Taylor and Samit Patel on the opening day to reach a total that ought to be enough, at the very least, to ensure a fourth defeat is avoided.
Watchful at first, perhaps even a little fortunate at times as Graham Onions and the returning Chris Rushworth bowled with skill but no luck in the first hour or so, Wessels completed a 92-ball half-century with a streaky four to third man off Onions but pushed on confidently thereafter, Durham suffering for the absence from their attack of one of their seam quartet, Brydon Carse, who has a foot injury. Wessels moved from 50 to 100 in 64 more balls and from 100 to 150 in just 42. Even so, he did not take any serious liberties in looking for boundaries until the reverse sweep off Scott Borthwick that took him to 150.
"I've felt all right but kept getting out in different ways," Wessels said, reflecting on a run of low scores after an 81 in the opening fixture against Surrey. "Onions and Rushworth bowled well first up so it was good to get past fifty and push on this time."
The Wessels innings spanned four and a half hours, after which he was compelled to swap batting gloves for wicketkeeping gauntlets as Read's stand-in behind the stumps, from which vantage point he was able to watch Jackson Bird deliver a damaging burst of three wickets in six deliveries either side of tea as a solid start to Durham's replay unravelled.
From 72 without loss they slipped to 75 for 3 as Keaton Jennings and Mark Stoneman succumbed to near-identical dismissals, each clipping balls that were caught low down at short midwicket, before Jack Burnham was pinned in front first ball.
The Australian finished on 4 for 59, which perhaps did not do justice to his performance on a wicket that is not offering much to the bowlers.
Bird missed the defeat at Hampshire through a minor injury. Luke Fletcher might consider himself unlucky to be the man left out to accommodate him after taking 12 wickets in his last two matches but in a straight choice between him and Hutton, Nottinghamshire took the view that in Read's absence the young all-rounder was a likelier source of runs and were justified in doing so.
After a wicketless morning, Durham enjoyed the better of the afternoon, taking the last four Nottinghamshire wickets for 61 further runs and losing only the one wicket before the next interval. Borthwick's leg-spin claimed all four, giving him only the third five-for of a career that has certainly suffered, in regard to that part of his game, from spending half of it bowling - or, more often, not bowling - at the Riverside.
He might have seemed destined to be a one-Test wonder after his solitary, unsuccessful appearance during the ill-starred 2013-14 Ashes tour, but England have not yet given up on him completely as a leg-spinning allrounder. Encouraged by England's spin coach, Peter Such, he went to New Zealand in the winter to work with Warwickshire's Jeetan Patel, who has been an effective spinner in English conditions for a number of years.
Running through the Nottinghamshire tail does not count for much, of course, but it will have been good for his confidence, if nothing else. He needs no such boost in terms of his batting. As he and Collingwood rebuilt after Bird claimed Michael Richardson as his fourth wicket, Borthwick is unbeaten on 59 at the close, having recorded two fifties and two hundreds in his last six innings.