Plunkett bowls Durham within sight of victory
Durham 194 (Mustard 63, Kabir ALi 6-68) and 64 for 1 need another 115 runs to beat Worcestershire 193 (Noffke 50, Plunkett 6-63) and 179 (Kervezee 66, Plunkett 5-56)
More good bowling by Durham and a lack of confidence by the Worcestershire batsmen turned this match in favour of the county champions on the third day. While Alexei Kervezee fought almost a lone battle for the visitors, the most significant feature of the play was more excellent pace bowling by Durham's Liam Plunkett, who took eleven wickets in the match. Durham's main concern will now be the weather, as plenty of rain is forecast for the final day.
Worcestershire began, effectively, their second innings this morning under ideal weather conditions, the sun beaming down warmly on the world's most northerly ground regularly staging first-class cricket. The ball, as it has done early each morning so far, swung from the start, but less dangerously this time, and Daryl Mitchell and Kervezee were able to concentrate on more than mere survival. This, in fact, proved to be the only stage of their innings when Worcestershire looked capable of taking control of this match.
They put on 36 in sound but unspectacular style, working the ball skillfully around the field. Just as the team's supporters may have felt able to sit back and relax a bit, the partnership was broken, as Mitchell played an uncertain stroke to Mark Davies and was caught at slip for 15. The whole building did not come tumbling down, but rather it was a steady brick-by-brick removal that followed. Kyle Coetzer took two catches in quick succession in the backward-point region, both from hard hits, as Moeen Ali (10) and Ben Smith (3) both departed. When a struggling David Wheeldon fell to a juggled catch in the slips, Worcestershire were 71 for 4, each wicket to a different seam bowler. Matt Claydon, who removed Wheeldon, was quite expensive, but the others bowled with admirable accuracy and persistence. They received a little help from the conditions, but not enough to excuse Worcestershire, who in the main contributed to their own downfall.
Kervezee was now the only specialist batsman left, but briefly runs came briskly while he was partnered by Ashley Noffke. For the first time, Durham resorted to spin, and Ian Blackwell did the trick with his third ball, as Noffke (11) padded up and was given his marching orders, lbw. Kervezee by then had reached his fifty, off 105 balls, an admirable effort for the young opener while wickets were falling at the other end. He was uncomfortable at times, but showed great determination, obviously aware of his uncertain place in the team when Stephen Moore returns, and held the innings together while he was there. He played an occasional impressive drive, but most of his runs came from the square-leg and backward-point regions. Unfortunately his concentration showed signs of wavering after reaching his half-century; he played a couple of loose strokes, was missed at 55 off a difficult chance to the keeper down the leg side, and eventually tried too late to abort a hook, to be caught at the wicket for 66.
Durham now moved in for the kill, and Worcestershire looked ready to crumble under the pressure. But, when all seemed lost at 124 for 8, the ninth-wicket pair showed some welcome spirit. Kabir Ali made a few rustic hits, but then settled down to play more sensibly, and Chris Whelan played with more judgment and competence than any No. 10 should possess. They added 45 together before Whelan had a rush of blood to the head and swung at a ball from Plunkett - clean bowled for 21.
Plunkett again did the job of cleaning up the innings, removing Matt Mason, hanging his bat out to be caught in the slips, for 5, leaving Kabir unbeaten on 30. Plunkett finished with 5 for 56, and his first-ever ten-wicket haul, 11 for 119 in the match. Once more he looked an England bowler. Worcestershire were out for a disappointing 179 in good batting conditions, leaving Durham exactly that number to win the match.
Michael Di Venuto soon had Durham under way, slashing the second ball of the innings through the covers for four. Durham must obviously have been aware of the weather forecast for the final day, but only a Twenty20 effort could have brought them victory (or defeat) before then, and this was not an option. Naturally, though, they wanted to clear off as many runs as possible. The openers put on 47 before, in the 13th over, Coetzer tried unsuccessfully to withdraw his bat from a ball from Noffke and was caught at the wicket for 15. This slowed the scoring somewhat, but Di Venuto finished the day unbeaten with 43. It would appear that the weather has a better chance than Worcestershire of denying Durham their fourth championship win of the season on the final day.