Durham seal the title in style
Durham 648 for 5 dec (Di Venuto 219, Chanderpaul 109*, Coetzer 107, Benkenstein 105) beat Nottinghamshire 384 (Plunkett 6-85) and 212 by 52 runs
Durham set the seal on their retention of the County Championship with an overwhelming victory by an innings and 52 runs over their nearest challengers, Nottinghamshire. They had another fine day in the field, although the visitors deserve great credit for fighting on to a bitter end, like the boxer who is seriously outclassed in the ring, but nevertheless manages to stay on his feet until almost the final round. It was a good team effort, but deservedly the dying moments of the match belonged to the England pacemen Steve Harmison and Liam Plunkett. For the losers, a gallant fighting innings of 78 by Alex Hales brought a glimmer of light in the gloom.
Nottinghamshire, following on, began the day on 52 for 3, a draw being possible for them but an immense task against the newly crowned county champions. Without a run added, they lost their nightwatchman Darren Pattinson, totally beaten and bowled leg stump by a good delivery from Plunkett. Samit Patel, who replaced him, lived a rather dangerous life and did not give the impression of being prepared to put his head down and fight it out; he was soon caught on the long-leg boundary hooking a short ball from Harmison.
Nottinghamshire had slumped to 61 for 4, and it looked, with Harmison and Plunkett bowling superbly, as if they would collapse and send the family crowd of around 5000 home early. But now Hales and Bilal Shafayat provided some real fight as they stood up to the fire and brimstone with determination. They saw off the two most dangerous bowlers, and Hales reached his 50 off 112 balls with a fine pull for four off Mark Davies. It came to a disappointing end, however, as Hales called his partner for a suicidal single to Shiv Chanderpaul in the covers, leaving him quite unable to get home. Shafayat had made 32 and the pair had added 58, almost doubling the score.
Ali Brown, another like Ian Blackwell to have forsaken the carefree hitting of his youth, provided strong support to Hales, whose innings finally ended at 78, as he nudged a ball from Blackwell to short leg. The young player, who scored mainly with cuts, pulls, dabs and nudges rather than drives, will have learned a lot during this match against such a fine attack and played a most creditable innings, with his application to the task being admirable.
Plunkett returned with a vengeance, bowling Brown for 28 and then bringing a ball back to trap Chris Read lbw for 24. Nottinghamshire's slim hopes of a draw were now virtually gone, but they did hang on until the tea interval, with eight wickets down. But afterwards the end soon came. Luke Fletcher slashed at the second delivery after the break, from Harmison, and was caught in the slips. One wicket was left, with Harmison and Plunkett both vying for it. It would have given Plunkett his tenth in the match, and Harmison said afterwards he would rather the other had taken it, but it was the brooding figure of Harmison, who had bowled so well with little luck until now in this match, who finally bowled Mark Ealham for 18 to give his team its eighth victory of the season.
After the match, there was a ceremony in front of a huge, jubilant home crowd as Durham were officially presented with the championship trophy. Geoff Cook said how personally exciting it was for him to see his team win a second successive championship, especially given that they had come together so well under the new leadership of Will Smith, Dale Benkenstein's successor. For the club, Cook felt, two championships in succession presented a really strong statement about themselves and the solid unit that represented them on the field.
Harmison, who had put the personal seal on Durham's maiden championship at Canterbury last season, said: "For me to take the final wicket that gave us the championship two years in a row was just incredible. It means a hell of a lot to all the players. I'm especially pleased for Will Smith, a 25-year-old captaining a side with so many international players. There was more pressure on us this year - yes, that made this year even better than the last."
Brian Hunt, Durham's scorer for 34 years now, said of Durham's two successive championship wins: "It means absolutely everything. Last year it was special to win the first one, worth more than winning the Friends Provident, our first big win, but this year was extra special.
"I think it is harder to come back and retain it, and to do so in the manner and style we have done seems to mean that little bit more," said Hunt. "On our playing staff we have 15 or 16 locals, and that augurs well for the future as well. This really is the stuff of dreams; it's a bit surreal it has happened so early in the season. It's a fantastic reward for all the people who have put so much into Durham cricket for so many years."