Record-breaking Durham close in
Nottinghamshire 65 for 2 trail Durham 648 for 5 dec (Di Venuto 219, Chanderpaul 109*, Coetzer 107, Benkenstein 105) by 583 runs
Only an impossible amount of freakish cricket could possibly keep Durham from retaining the County Championship this year. Since defeat in this match against Nottinghamshire is now inconceivable, they only need two bowling bonus points to do that. With centuries from Dale Benkenstein and Shivnarine Chanderpaul in a new record team total, they tightened their grip on all their various targets, and the last half-hour of play was enlivened by a blistering, if unsuccessful, spell of bowling from Steve Harmison.
Durham resumed on their overnight total of 377 for 1, and initially things did not go well with them, as within minutes they lost both their overnight batsmen. Michael Di Venuto, who was unbeaten on 219, fell to the first ball of the day, groping outside off stump to a ball from Luke Fletcher and edging it to the stand-in keeper, Bilal Shafayat. In Fletcher's next over, Will Smith was caught down the leg side for 27, and Durham were 382 for 3. "Durham collapse" was jocularly suggested as a headline.
For Nottinghamshire, though, it was too good to last, not least because they were now two bowlers short. Charlie Shreck, injured in the field on the first day, was unable to resume, and it transpired that Mark Ealham had injured his side in running out Kyle Coetzer so superbly on the previous afternoon. He took the field, to save his team the embarrassment of having to look for a third substitute, but was unable to bowl. This left his team with only three front-line bowlers, none of whom had made an impact on the opening day.
Nottinghamshire now had to dismiss two Test players in Chanderpaul and Benkenstein; there is currently a petition at the county to have a stand on the Riverside Ground named after the latter. These two were determined to give their visitors nothing, and put their heads down to rebuild the innings, if that is the correct term in their position. The bowling was steady and generally accurate, to the credit of the surviving bowlers, but never threatening. Despite his caution, Benkenstein had three narrow escapes before lunch, On 8 he attempted a pull and saw a difficult chance at mid-on go down, on 32 he looked to be caught at backward point by Andre Adams, well enough now to act as substitute, but the fielder sportingly signalled it had just failed to carry, and on 43 slip, running behind the keeper, just failed to hold what would have been a brilliant catch.
Chanderpaul for his part gave no chances, and concentrated on accumulation, with his skilful pushes, dabs and cuts, while Benkenstein drove powerfully off the front foot when safe to do so. They did not seek to dominate before lunch, the scoring rate being just under three an over, and it was also a credit to the weary bowlers that only 93 runs were added to the total before lunch.
Immediately afterwards Benkenstein reached his 50 off 106 balls, and was soon followed by Chanderpaul off 106, as he now upped a gear or two. By now Nottinghamshire were struggling, having exhausted their main bowlers, and they had to introduce part-timers. Benkenstein speeded up to reach his century off 170 balls and was then dismissed for 105, going for a big mow against Alex Hales and being caught at the wicket.
Ian Blackwell came in and hammered a delivery from Samit Patel for six over long on, as Chanderpaul entered the nineties. Chanderpaul now showed great caution, with the score past 600, and went in to tea on 99, despite exhortations from one or two spectators. He struggled on that number for several minutes in the final session, until a misfield allowed him to reach three figures off 209 balls.
Following this, Blackwell hammered a catch to long on, but Durham continued to bat until they had reached 648 for 5, upon which they declared with the highest innings total in their history. This beat their 645 for 6 against Middlesex at Lord's in 2002, and it was the first time that four batsmen scored a century for them in the same innings.
Scott Newman tried to bat positively as Nottinghamshire began their innings with a draw their only hope. Harmison was quick, but Newman struggled more against Mark Davies, and survived a close lbw appeal before later in the same over being pushed back and trapped plumb by a ball that kept a little lower.
Davies struck again, as Mark Wagh, frustrated by his accuracy, tried a loose back-foot drive and was caught in the gully for 3. The arrival of Samit Patel brought out the best in Harmison, who gave him a torrid time on a pitch that had hitherto appeared incapable of providing the pace and bounce he, or any other fast bowler, would wish. Patel was hardly comfortable, but he did not flinch and he survived to fight another day. Nottinghamshire will need him and Hales to do a great deal of fighting over the next two days, but it won't be enough to deny Durham.