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Durham retained the County Championship title with two matches remaining. Cricinfo looks back at how they did it
September 13, 2009
April 22-25 v Yorkshire, Chester-le-Street. Match Drawn
From the moment Ian Blackwell and Phil Mustard steadied the first innings it looked as though Durham would start their defence with victory. However, they couldn't dismiss Yorkshire on the final day despite Graham Onions' 5 for 56 which included the wicket of Michael Vaughan. Onions finished with eight wickets in the match and Steve Harmison five. It was a sign of things to come and a warning shot to the rest of the division.
April 28-May 1 v Somerset, Taunton. Match Drawn
Onions celebrated his England Test call-up as he took 6 for 31 to skittle Somerset for 69 on the second day. He bowled full and straight, beginning with the wicket of Marcus Trescothick, as the home side folded in 28 overs. Dale Benkenstein had made 181 in the first innings to set up Durham's position on a typically flat Taunton surface, and after Somerset's aberration the game reverted to type. With more than two days to take another 10 wickets, Durham were thwarted by the weather (which impacted the third day) and centuries from Trescothick, Justin Langer and Craig Kieswetter.
May 6-9 v Sussex, Hove. Match Drawn
It became three draws in a row as Durham couldn't quite force the pace in friendly batting conditions on the south coast. Another hundred for Benkenstein laid a decent first innings, but Sussex were almost level thanks to a century from Andrew Hodd. Michael Di Venuto and Gordon Muchall than racked up three figures, but there wasn't enough time to dismiss the home side again, although Durham's quick bowlers created some nervous moments on the final afternoon. It only felt like a matter of time before the first victory arrived.
June 6-8 v Hampshire, Chester-le-Street. Won by an innings and 110 runs
When Durham opened their account for the season they did so in style. Following a break for one-day action, they took advantage of favourable first-day conditions to roll Hampshire for a paltry 105. Onions and Harmison did the bulk of the damage with seven first-innings wickets between them and 15 in the match. As would become a hallmark for Durham's campaign, they scored runs in tough conditions when it mattered and important innings from Will Smith and Ian Blackwell built a substantial lead. Then it was over to Onions again, who ripped out Hampshire for just 96 with 6 for 58. The game was over barely an hour into the third day.
June 11-13 v Lancashire, Chester-le-Street. Won by 138 runs
The well-oiled Durham machine was hitting top gear and they comfortably secured a low-scoring contest. The opening day was overshadowed by Andrew Flintoff's return to action as he claimed 4 for 47 to help dismiss Durham for 244. But by the time Onions and Harmison got to work, that looked a massive total as Lancashire folded for 116 - Harmison winning the duel with his great mate Flintoff. On an action-packed second day, Durham then crashed to 10 for 4, but their first-innings lead of 128 gave them a considerable cushion and Blackwell hit a priceless 74. A target to 274 in the conditions was always out of reach, especially with Harmison blowing away the top order as he took 5 for 46.
June 16-19 v Warwickshire, Edgbaston. Won by 10 wickets
Edgbaston was a bowler's graveyard for most of the season - except when Durham came to town. Onions continued his outstanding form with 7 for 38 in the second innings to follow up Harmison's haul of 5 for 44 in what Geoff Cook called "one of Durham's best wins." They had been an uncertain 120 for 4 on the first day when Blackwell played his most important innings of the season with 158. Even the loss of much of the second day to rain didn't halt Durham, as Harmison found hostile form and struck three Warwickshire batsmen painful blows. "It's the worst thing in the world when you hit somebody," he said. "I really don't like it at all." After Onions' second-innings show, Durham were back at the top
June 30-July 3 v Worcestershire, Chester-le-Street. Won by five wickets
Another low-scoring contest in the North East, and Durham were again too strong despite the absence of Onions and Harmison and a fine spell from Kabir Ali. Liam Plunkett took career-best innings and match figures (11 for 123), but the home side were under real pressure in their first effort when Kabir and Matt Mason reduced them to 59 for 6. However, once again, the lower order came to the rescue as Mustard made crucial runs to edge a one-run lead. Plunkett, down in the role of fourth seamer, then led the destruction again to leave a target of 179. That could have been testing, but Di Venuto hit an unbeaten 100.
July 10-13 v Yorkshire, Headingley. Match Drawn
Perhaps the closest Durham came to defeat, but such was their strength and confidence they overturned a first-innings deficit of 135 to end the game in the stronger position. Harmison took another five-wicket haul, but the crucial performances came from Mustard (85) and Plunkett (65) as they added 147 for the eighth wicket after Durham had been 268 for 7 - a lead of 133. It was becoming very hard to see any team beating the defending champions.
July 15-18 v Nottinghamshire, Trent Bridge. Won by an innings and 102 runs
Nottinghamshire didn't get near denting Durham's position as they were blown away for 171 and 83. Harmison was again lethal, having joined the match following his omission from the Lord's Test, and blew away the second innings with 6 for 20. The depth of Durham's options were on show in the first innings as Plunkett and Blackwell took seven wickets between them. Benkenstein again showed his value on the opening day with a battling hundred along with a hard-fought 87 from captain Will Smith.
July 31-August 3 v Sussex, Chester-le-Street. Won by nine wickets
This was a victory set up by Durham's batsmen as Di Venuto hit a career-best 254, adding 231 with Smith who made 101 and 173 with Benkenstein. But while conditions looked flat when Sussex bowled, Durham's attack found more help. This time it was Callum Thorp's turn to take the honours with a five-wicket haul and Sussex were asked to bat again. A three-day victory was on the cards before Luke Wright provided some resistance, but there was no denying Durham as Harmison cleaned up the tail.
August 11-14 v Lancashire, Old Trafford. Match Drawn
A pitch offering some turn - albeit that got slower during the match - made for a tight contest over the first couple of days until Durham pulled away before the surface had the final say. Durham managed 270 on the first day with plenty of contributions but no major innings, then on the second Blackwell worked through Lancashire with a career-best 7 for 85. Di Venuto's 84 then led a grinding second innings before a declaration left a target of 326. That was never entertained and Onions' three wickets created a few flutters before Mark Chilton secured the draw. Still, no one had come close to beating Durham
August 19-21 v Warwickshire, Chester-le-Street. Won by eight wickets
The title came ever nearer with another dominant display based on Thorp's first innings haul of 5 for 49, which skittled Warwickshire for 135 while Benkenstein's three scalps were the surprise package. A workmanlike batting display built a lead of 138 with Blackwell playing another useful innings. Jim Troughton produced an impressive, battling century but Blackwell, Mark Davies and Mitchell Claydon took three wickets each and a target of 101 was knocked off with ease.
September 1-4 v Somerset, Chester-le-Street. Match Drawn
Two days of rain prevented Durham from pressing for another win against one of two teams with an outside chance of catching them in the title race. Somerset slumped dramatically in the first innings from 89 without loss to 174 all out as Blackwell took an incredible 5 for 7. Batting wasn't easy at any stage and Shivnarine Chanderpaul showed his class with an unbeaten 117 before the weather condemned the match to a damp end…and left Durham within touching distance of the main prize.
September 9-12 v Nottinghamshire, Chester-le-Street. Won by an innings and 52 runs
When Harmison bowled Mark Ealham on the final evening Durham had officially defended their title with two games remaining, but the outcome had long since been known. They did it in style with a record-breaking total of 648 for 5, following a record opening stand of 317 - their biggest in Championship cricket - as four batsmen registered hundreds, led by Di Venuto's 219 which all came on the opening day. With Nottinghamshire, the side in second place and Durham's last challengers, having only collected one bowling point ,Durham needed just six wickets and a draw to take the title. Plunkett struck the decisive blow when he had Ali Brown caught behind, but Durham didn't let up and crowned their magnificent defence with a crushing victory.
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