Di Venuto and Chanderpaul feed on rubbish
Durham 390 for 3 (Di Venuto 113, Chanderpaul 100*, Benkenstein 91*) lead Worcestershire 356 (Andrew, Mitchell 67, Plunkett 4-104) by 34 runs
This time last year the New Road square was under several feet of foul flood water. Locals might have been forgiven for concluding there was more filth on it during the second day of this game, however, as Worcestershire's bowlers produced a display of staggering ineptitude to allow Durham's batsmen to fill their boots with an ease quite unbecoming of a game between two first-class counties. Indeed, this wasn't so much men against boys as men against babies.
Perhaps Worcestershire were somewhat unfortunate. Certainly they ran into a quality player - Michael Di Venuto - at the peak of his powers and several others - notably Benkenstein and Chanderpaul - who are simply blessed with far more natural talent. Fair enough, it's not a disgrace to be outplayed.
But the hosts will also reflect that they made life far too easy for the champions. A glut of long-hops, half-volleys and leg-side fodder contributed to the worst display of bowling this correspondent has witnessed in a championship game. Whatever their inexperience, professional bowlers really should be able to do better than this.
The search for more consistency has been the aim for Worcestershire bowlers this season. Well, they found consistency here. They were consistently awful and, by conceding 278 runs in boundaries, have raised the prospect of an 11th Championship defeat of the season. The admirable Jack Shantry apart, they should think about donating their match fees to charity. Really, they were that bad.
It would be a shame to detract from the excellence of Durham's batting, however. Di Venuto, in particular, played beautifully and tore into the bowling with murderous relish. Feasting on the copious amount of leg-side long-hops he pulled with power and drove the numerous half-volleys with an ease that was almost embarrassing as 92 of his 113 came from boundaries.
It was an innings that capped a superb season for Di Venuto. Not only did he surpass the club record number of first-class runs in a season (eclipsing Wayne Larkins' 1536 set in the club's maiden year of first-class cricket, 1992), but he also equalled Paul Collingwood's record (six, set in 2005) for the most first-class centuries in a season for the club.
It also leaves Di Venuto with a remarkable record against Worcestershire. This was his fifth first-class century against them and the 13th time he has passed 50 against them in 13 games. With the exception of Marcus Trescothick, it's hard to think of a more destructive batsman in county cricket.
Di Venuto might feel he should have scored plenty more here. After taking just 40 balls over his second fifty, he looked utterly dominant. It was some surprise when he charged down the pitch and missed a gentle off-break.
Will Smith and Kyle Coetzer might feel they let an opportunity slip, too. Coetzer looked in fine touch, stroking a series of elegant drives to the boundary, but then mis-timed a pull and ballooned a catch to mid-on, while Smith chased a wide one and edged to the keeper.
Durham hardly missed a stride, however. Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Dale Benkenstein have so far added 183 in 46 overs for the fourth wicket, picking up runs with dismissive ease. It was Chanderpaul's third century in four Championship innings and the 51st of his career. Few of them will have been as simple.
He was hardly forced to break sweat. With Worcestershire captain, Vikram Solanki, unable to set any sort of field for his erratic bowlers, Chanderpaul contented himself with guiding the short off-side balls to the third-man boundary and the leg-side balls to fine leg. Easy.
The biggest frustration from a Worcestershire perspective was the failure to utilise conditions that remained helpful for the bowlers. On the odd occasions when they did land the ball in the right spot, there was movement available and Durham's lead - 34 runs already with plenty of power to add - may well prove to be match-winning.
The only exception for Worcestershire was Shantry. Signed from league cricket only weeks ago, he delivered a disciplined, probing display of swing bowling and remained committed in the field. His more experienced colleagues could learn from his example.
There was one more bright spot in the day for Worcestershire. By stretching their first innings over 350 in the morning, they secured the bonus point they required to ensure they have avoided a new record for the lowest points total in the history of two division cricket. It's hardly an excuse to uncork the champagne, though. They look certain to finish the season without a first-class win for the first time since 1928 and need to ask themselves some long, hard questions before starting life in Division Two.
Quite who will be at New Road next season remains uncertain. Lancashire have emerged as a strong contender for the signature of Stephen Moore, while the club yesterday confirmed that Ian Fisher has joined Mehraj Ahmed and Simon Jones on the 'released' list. Nor will Steffan Jones be joining them: the seamer is to extend his stay at Derbyshire and take on the role of bowling coach.
George Dobell is managing director of Spin Magazine