Kent v Durham, Canterbury, 2nd day September 25, 2008

Di Venuto and Smith help rekindle Durham's dream

Jeremy James at Canterbury

Durham 289 for 6 (Di Venuto 90, Smith 81) lead Kent 225 (Key 58, Harmison 4-89) by 64 runs

Michael Di Venuto on the attack on his way to 90 © Getty Images
Durham are giving a passable appearance of 2008 county champions. They took the last Kent wicket in the morning, built up a first-innings lead in the afternoon that could still be substantial, and altogether looked a considerably better side than opponents who are facing the prospect of relegation to the second division for the first time.

Aided by a drying pitch that offered less assistance to the seam bowlers than on the first day, Durham had a lead of 64 by the close, four wickets in hand and no shortage of sessions in which to bowl their opponents out a second time.

Michael Di Venuto played the innings of the day, his dismissal coming ten runs short of what would have been his third century of the season. Will Smith gave him ideal support until he was leg-before to Ryan McLaren just before the close for 81, made off 160 balls with eight fours. His game is unquestionably better organised than it was last season.

Some steadfast batting was what Durham required at this time, and he came up with exactly that. In addition, there was a useful supporting innings by Ben Harmison, who put on 92 with Di Venuto before he was brilliantly caught by Darren Stevens running back and holding the ball over his shoulder.

Even the weather has not favoured Kent. Overcast for most of their innings on Wednesday, it was bright and good for batting now, which was of benefit to them only while James Tredwell was taking his overnight score of 10 to 38 in Kent's total of 225.

For so many years this has been a club able to command loyal, even partisan support, but the crowds have been thin for this match. There are too many players from overseas for young supporters to empathise with as once they could when their cricketers came from Bromley to Broadstairs and not Bloemfontein. The ambitious redevelopment of the ground has been postponed - conceivably for ever.

In and out: Justin Kemp spills a catch off Di Venuto © Getty Images
This is a proud club and one that will not reside comfortably in the second division if it cannot pull away from Sussex and Yorkshire at the bottom of the table. For the moment, the attack, comprising four quickish bowlers and two spinners, is trying manfully but is lacking the bite necessary on a more docile pitch.

Martin Saggers, strangely enough, did not come into the attack until the 40th over, when he promptly took a wicket, having Di Venuto taken by Geraint Jones. He then removed Dale Benkenstein, bowled playing on. The drawback was that Durham at that stage were on the point of taking a first-innings lead. Di Venuto's innings of 90 included 13 fours and a six, off 133 balls, and was notable for its shot selection. Although McLaren took a second wicket in the same over in which he dismissed Smith, bowling Mark Davies, the nightwatchman, Durham will reckon that in a relatively low-scoring encounter, they have comfortably the upper hand.