Ntini condemns Durham to two-day thrashing
Kent 320 beat Durham 121 and 195 by an innings and four runs
After winning back to back titles, to talk of Durham being in crisis only six matches into a new season seems premature, particularly given that they have won as many as they have lost. But given that both defeats have been by an innings, the latest against a side previously without a win and whom they had beaten last week, there is clearly cause for concern.
Durham lost to Kent in five sessions, a fate they had not suffered since Sussex won before tea on the second day at The Riverside in 2006, before going on to win the title. Losing by an innings to Nottinghamshire at Trent Bridge two weeks ago prompted a change of captaincy as Will Smith made way for Phil Mustard. The new incumbent surely will not face the same fate just yet but he already knows why Smith may have found leading a side struggling for form rather less straightforward than directing one that was winning almost every week.
Questions are being asked about whether Durham made a mistake in deciding not to engage an overseas player this season, at least not for their Championship campaign. Yet the reason they lost this match was relatively simple: Kent bowled well and they did not.
Specifically, it was two Kent bowlers who determined the outcome - Amjad Khan and Makhaya Ntini. The ball swung for both sides in all three innings but where Steve Harmison and Liam Plunkett, Durham's two international bowlers, performed erratically and often lacked control, Ntini and Khan rarely sent down a bad ball.
Ntini, in the last of his five matches for Kent, finished with 6 for 51 as Durham's second innings subsided to 195 all out, giving him ten in the match and a total of 24 at 19.75 for his full stint. Khan, who took 5 for 43 in the first innings, added 2 for 29 from 13 overs.
"Makhaya has given so much to Kent in his five matches with us it was fitting he should end with a bag of wickets," Kent's head coach, Paul Farbrace, said. "We have had some impressive overseas players at Kent but for his enthusiasm and passion for the game, always willing to offer advice and encouragement, none can have given so much."
Durham really had no answer and it was just as well that Matt Coles and Simon Cook were rather less of a problem when the principal pair were taking a breather. It at least allowed Michael Di Venuto and Ben Stokes to offer a semblance of resistance in a partnership of 81 for the sixth wicket.
Much of that was down to Stokes, who scored a century in the Nottinghamshire defeat, added 203 - 161 and 42 - without being out at Canterbury and somehow managed to hit 53 in this match despite being in much pain from a sprained right ankle that required him to have Steve Borthwick as a runner.
It was an admirable display of bravery from the 18-year-old, who faced only 40 deliveries. Unfortunately, after cracking Ntini through the covers with a lovely shot to complete his half-century, he fell to the next delivery as the South African came around the wicket to knock out his off stump and Durham thereafter faded rather tamely.
Liam Plunkett suffered the same fate two balls later, surrendering his middle stump, and it was not long before Di Venuto's resistance was ended, too, Ntini inducing an edge to first slip for 86.
Chris Rushworth was caught behind off an inside edge, before Harmison became Ntini's sixth victim, trapped leg before for a duck.
That Stokes made his runs effectively batting on one leg only added to his team-mates' embarrassment. Director of cricket Geoff Cook left it to Dale Benkenstein, who has so far resisted calls from some supporters to resume the captaincy he handed to Smith, to offer his observations.
"Looking at the calibre of our local guys I can understand why we didn't sign an overseas player for the Championship," he said. "Steve Harmison is as good as anybody when he's 100 per cent fit.
"With the fitness situation there's an obvious argument for bringing in an overseas man, but it can also be an excuse. The same guys have done the job and won matches for us, but the bowlers are not putting it in the right place for long enough and the batsmen are not consistently making runs, especially on day one.
"We have fought hard coming back into games, rather than getting on top from day one. People have had opportunities and are not doing the basics well enough.
"If you look at Makhaya Ntini's performance there's nothing genius about it. He's very fit, he runs in hard and bowls his overs, whereas Steve Harmison has been struggling and still isn't right.
"The worst thing that happened for us in pre-season was winning easily in Abu Dhabi and then in the friendly against Lancashire. We thought we were just carrying on from where we left off last year.
"On top of the injuries Will Smith's situation hasn't helped. I would have been happy to take on the captaincy for the rest of the season but I don't think it would have been the right thing to do. It would just have been filling a gap when we have to move on.
"It's a tough job and I've talked to Phil Mustard about it. He has a good knowledge of the game and his honesty is commendable, plus his respect for the players. He just has to get his bowlers firing."