Rain helps Durham deny Essex
Durham 198 and 352 for 7 drew with Essex 484
Dual champions Durham needed plenty of backs-to-the-wall defiance, and some help from above, to eke out a draw against promoted Essex at the Riverside.
A record 212-run third-wicket stand between Michael Di Venuto (99) and Dale Benkenstein (98) and half-centuries from Ian Blackwell (52) and Phil Mustard (60no) shored Durham up at 352 for 7.
They had inched 66 runs in front by the time rain and bad light closed in for the second time to take out 34 overs and compromise Essex's bowling options on the final evening.
They therefore did not after all suffer a first home defeat since June 2008, in their opening Division One match of this summer. But four points were nonetheless the sum total of their efforts - hardly a portentous start in pursuit of a third successive title.
Tim Phillips' four wickets helped to keep Durham in trouble, after they had made much of the stuff for themselves by losing nine wickets and stumbling to 4 for 2 following on during a calamitous afternoon yesterday.
The slow left-armer dismissed Di Venuto and Benkenstein in the half hour before lunch today, and again struck in successive overs this afternoon. Di Venuto and Benkenstein had reprised their partnership for another 90 minutes until Phillips (4 for 102) struck for the first time.
Benkenstein, who edged Chris Wright just short of Alastair Cook at first slip on 63, managed only a single in the first eight overs. But he then crunched a pull off Wright for six into the members' stand. The former captain was also hit on the helmet when Graham Napier got a short ball to follow him. Like Di Venuto, though, Benkenstein kept chipping away the arrears - mostly through a packed and unorthodox leg-side field Napier had devised to snare him.
Progress became serene for the two Durham lynchpins, and a century for each seemed close on inevitable until Benkenstein lifted a drive at Phillips to a short mid-off - and two overs later, Di Venuto pushed out at one that did not turn and edged to slip.
At least one more partnership of substance would therefore be needed to keep Essex at bay, and the first to try were Ben Stokes and Blackwell. The latter began with a crunching extra-cover drive for four first ball and another swept boundary in the same Phillips over. But Stokes pulled Ryan ten Doeschate tamely to midwicket to leave his team-mates with a fair bit of hard work still to do.
All went well again for the hosts, though, for most of the afternoon as Blackwell and Mustard's fifties threatened to make the game safe. The second new ball brought 36 runs and no wickets in 10 overs. Blackwell shared a stand of 82 with Mustard until, under increasingly gloomy skies, he found himself trooping off with much self-admonishment after somehow allowing a ball from Phillips to trickle down off his forward defensive bat to hit the bottom of leg-stump and dislodge one bail.
In Phillips' next over, umpire Richard Kettleborough decided Liam Plunkett had to go lbw for a duck - pushing a long way forward to a well-directed delivery. But Mustard was still up for the fight and completed his 79-ball half-century with his ninth boundary.
His strokeplay was a major asset in a situation where runs were as precious as overs ticked off. With forecast rain arriving, the umpires ordered the players off for what became an early tea.
A temporary improvement in the weather allowed Essex back on for just five overs - and they were robbed of their shot at a notable win to follow last week's success at home to Hampshire.