Di Venuto double brings title closer
Durham 377 for 1 (Di Venuto 219*, Coetzer 107) v Nottinghamshire
For Nottinghamshire, one of two outside challengers to Durham for the title, it was one of those days where everything goes wrong from start to finish. First, they were unable to play Andre Adams through illness. Then they lost the toss and had to take the field on a fine batting wicket under a largely blue sky on a mild day. For Durham, it was a day where they moved inextricably towards the retaining the main prize. Their opening batsmen, led by Michael Di Venuto's outstanding double century, added 314 and put the Nottinghamshire bowlers to the sword, while the visitors also lost two of their top players through injury.
Durham for their part were without Callum Thorp, due to a back injury, but they do have Steve Harmison in their side. Kyle Coetzer, newly promoted to opening batsman, went in first with the regular, Di Venuto and was the only man to fall - for the small matter of 107. At the start, Charlie Shreck and Darrin Pattinson bowled well for Nottinghamshire, and they began with three maiden overs. When runs did come, they came painfully for a while until Coetzer broke the shackles with a fine off-drive for four off Pattinson, and then he took two off-side boundaries from drives off Shreck.
Di Venuto was so long settling in that he scored just 3 off his first 32 balls, but then began to open up. Coetzer still favoured the covers, but Nottinghamshire eventually wised up and changed their line and length to him. Di Venuto caught and overtook him in the thirties, and at lunch the score was 90, both batsmen in the forties. By now the visitors had lost their captain and wicketkeeper, Chris Read, who dislocated a thumb. Mark Ealham had to take over the leadership, while Bilal Shafayat went behind the stumps.
Di Venuto went to his 50 fifteen minutes after the break off 96 balls and then hammered a ball through the covers to bring up the team and partnership hundred. His favourite stroke was the slash off the back foot through the covers, and he had plenty of opportunity to play it, as the Nottinghamshire bowling began to crumble. It took Coetzer 115 balls and until 45 minutes after lunch to reach his own 50, which included as many as 11 fours.
Nottinghamshire began to wilt under the onslaught; there were some lapses in the field and Shreck injured his leg while chasing a ball and had to limp off the ground. Luke Fletcher looked rusty after a long lay-off through injury, and Di Venuto hit him out of the attack with three fours in an over. Pattinson, economical early on, was very expensive in his second spell, while Samit Patel, although finding some turn at times, was far from thrifty. The one man able to contain the flow of runs to any extent was Ealham with his accurate medium-pacers, and he occasionally beat the batsmen but without luck.
A cover drive off Pattinson took Di Venuto to his century off 140 balls, and the team's 200 came up in the fiftieth over. The pair now overtook the county's previous highest opening partnership in Championship cricket, and kept going. The first chance of the day came when Di Venuto edged a ball from Patel to slip, who was either asleep or else just did not see it until too late, as he failed to get a hand to it. At tea the total was 263, the batsmen 149 and 94 respectively.
After the break a cut from Coetzer off Patel brought up his century, which took him 215 balls and contained 20 fours, a tribute to his ability to dispatch the bad ball with brutal efficiency. The 300 came up with a similar shot from Di Venuto off the occasional bowler Alex Hales. Then the old saying about the only way a wicket could fall would be through a run-out came true. At 314, Di Venuto drove firmly to mid-off, where Ealham made a fine stop. Coetzer incorrectly anticipated a run, but Di Venuto sent him back. However, he was just unable to make his ground and was run out for 107.
For the captain Will Smith it was a case of after the Lord Mayor's show. He struggled for 28 balls before getting off the mark with a risky single - which brought him another four runs thanks to an overthrow - and he had already been dropped off a simple leg-side catch to the keeper off Pattinson. But Di Venuto powered relentlessly on, reaching 200 off 258 balls, and Smith battled his way onward with a little more confidence.
Both were still there at the close, the players walking off the field to the unusual accompaniment of bright sunshine. On 219, Di Venuto must be entertaining visions of a maiden triple-century; his highest score is currently 254 not out. More importantly, though, for Durham is that the title is getting ever closer.