Notts go top with crushing win
Nottinghamshire 559 for 8 dec beat Durham 218 and 279 by an innings and 62 runs
Despite being held up by a highly impressive maiden century from 18-year-old Ben Stokes, Nottinghamshire clinched the victory that was always theirs for the taking, lifting them to the top of the Division One table, eight points ahead of Yorkshire from one match fewer.
Maybe more significantly, it opens up a gap of 55 points between themselves and their vanquished opponents, whose chances of retaining their crown to be the first since Yorkshire in 1968 to win three titles in a row are already looking doubtful just four matches into the season.
It was Durham's first defeat since August 2008, ending a run of 23 matches unbeaten, which says much about how they have dominate the Championship in recent times. Nonetheless, with a string of bowlers injured and others struggling to find their form, they do not look the force they were and Will Smith, whose captaincy is facing as tough an examination as he has faced so far, was honest enough to admit they have a lot to do to catch up.
"It is a big gap," Smith said. "We have had injuries but we are not making that an excuse. Where we are in the table probably reflects the way we have been playing and it is up to each individual to realise we have to put things right.
"The team we have is good enough to win games of four-day cricket. The players in the squad are there because they are good enough. The injuries do not help but they are not the reason - it is because we are not playing good enough cricket.
Durham, four down and still 253 behind overnight, lost two more wickets within the first half an hour as Ian Blackwell hit Darren Pattinson straight to mid-off and then nightwatchman Chris Rushworth, trying to avoid a short ball, gloved a catch to the wicketkeeper.
Nottinghamshire claimed their third wicket of the morning just before lunch as Phil Mustard, who had curbed his own aggressive instincts in order to help Stokes keep his head in a partnership of 70, fell to a brilliant leg-side stumping by Chris Read, standing up to Steven Mullaney's medium pace.
Seven down for 180 at lunch, still needing 161 to make Nottinghamshire bat again, Durham's goose looked cooked but Stokes, who will not be 19 until June 4th, kept the home side waiting with an innings that confirmed Durham's view that he is an outstanding prospect.
In the first innings, he had let impetuosity get the better of him when he lost his wicket charging down the pitch to left-arm spinner Samit Patel. This time he showed the lesson had been learned, several times driving Patel through the covers off the back foot as he built on an 80-ball half century.
He was briefly becalmed in the 80s but revealed a feisty character in the way he shook off any hint of nerves with the prospect of a first hundred looming, taking it upon himself to get the job done by imposing himself as if he had done it dozens of times before as he went from 82 to 102 in four hits, taking his revenge on Patel with four-six-six-four off the reel.
He did not last much longer - caught on the mid-wicket boundary trying to hook Paul Franks out of the ground - and neither did Durham after that, Franks having Plunkett caught at second slip before Pattinson knocked back Ben Harmison's leg stump via an inside edge. It gave Notinghamshire a margin of victory - an innings and 62 runs - they found deeply satisfying after losing twice by an innings to Durham last season. In the corresponding match here, bowled out for 83 in the second innings, Steve Harmison took 6-20.
Harmison, rusty after a lay-off, never looked like wreaking similar havoc, even on a spicy pitch that has been central to Nottinghamshire's early-season strategy, as director of cricket Mick Newell revealed afterwards.
"You get a chance to request certain times of year to play at home and I knew if we got good weather there would not be many draws here if we got the pitches right," he said.
"The light roller rule has made a big difference. I knew there would be positive results and we have managed to come out on the right side. It could have gone the other way and it is credit to the players that it did not. We took a bit of a punt but I think it will need 10 wins to be champions and if we can win four out of five of these home fixtures we will be in a good position."
Bottom-of-the-table Hampshire are due here next week followed by Essex at the end of the month. Nottinghamshire have won their first four matches for the first time since 1922 but Newell is not getting carried away.
"Last year we won three of first four but did not win again until September so the secret is to maintain the momentum," he said.
The only cloud on Nottinghamshire's horizon is that Hashim Amla, who has scored heavily in all four wins, is required by South Africa and Australia's David Hussey does not arrive until June, leaving them without an overseas player for the next two matches. Mark Wagh, meanwhile, will be missing next week to sit his law exams.
Durham, whose front-line batsmen were found wanting after their bowlers conceded 500-plus for the second match running, can at least console themselves in that Stokes is clearly an all-rounder with a sparkling future.
A clean, assertive striker of the ball, he responded impressively after suffering a mauling at the hands of Nottinghamshire's batsmen on Wednesday and both Newell and Smith sang his praises.
"I knew Stokes is a talent from working with him in the winter with the England under-19s," Newell said. "He is going to be a fantastic cricketer. He can bowl as well, although he has not had much success with the ball yet, and he is a fantastic fielder too. He has the all-round package and I'm sure he will be an international cricketer if he progresses the right way.
"He is very self-motivated, very competitive and had a bit of a chirp at our senior batters as well, which shows he has a bit of fight. I can see him playing limited overs international cricket within the next two or three years."
"He is phenomenally talented," Smith said. "He had a bit of a brain explosion in the first innings going down the wicket to Samit but he is the kind of guy whose positive instincts you don't want to rein in and with that innings there he showed he really is a special talent."