Somerset left to sweat on Championship title
Durham 286 and 171 for 2 v Somerset 426
News filtering up from Old Trafford and Headingley that there will be negotiations to try and conjure results won't have pleased Somerset as they struggled to break the back of Durham's second innings. At the close the home side fought hard to reach 171 for 2, a lead of 31, and Somerset will have to work hard for the victory that would assure them the Championship pennant for the first time.
Somerset's batsmen did their job, led by James Hildreth's seventh hundred of the season, as they became the first team to collect a full hand of batting bonus points at Chester-le-Street this summer. They built a lead of 140 and victory here would make any arrangements in Manchester and Leeds pointless, but Michael Di Venuto ensured Durham, for one more day the reigning champions, weren't going down without a fight.
Something else to throw into the equation is that the final day is 84 overs instead of the usual 96 because the side's agreed to play four extra on each of the first three days so that Somerset can leave in time to catch a flight to London. They could be in the situation of leaving the ground without knowing whether the title is theirs or not. The ECB plan to present the trophy wherever it is won, too, so a helicopter could be useful.
Any target at Old Trafford would have to heavily favour Lancashire, but crucially Nottinghamshire would be in with a chance, while Anthony McGrath has confirmed there will be a game at Headingly weather permitting. If Durham continue to bat stubbornly towards a draw it will come down to whether Marcus Trescothick can agree to a run-chase with Phil Mustard, the home captain. It would make for a gripping final few hours of the campaign.
For much of the day Somerset continued to work their way into pole position. They kept up a brisk scoring rate throughout, initially with Peter Trego and then Hildreth took over with a mature innings with highlighted the strides he has made this season. His hundred came from 175 deliveries with 13 boundaries, with his pull shot proving especially powerful.
Somerset could provide quite a few England Lions tourists this winter and Hildreth will top that list. He moved ahead of Marcus Trescothick as the team's leading Championship run-scorer and when he clipped a three through midwicket it took Somerset to 400.
Trego had carried on where he left off the previous evening as he rattled to a 46-ball half-century. He had one fortunate moment on 54 when a top-edged pull wasn't gathered by Phil Mustard. When Ian Blackwell's left-arm spin was introduced the batsmen began cautiously, but it didn't take long for Trego to slog-sweep him over deep midwicket for six.
The hundred partnership with Hildreth came off 22 overs but ended shortly afterwards when Trego was beaten by a ball from Liam Plunkett that kept a fraction low and got dragged onto leg stump. The onus then switched to Hildreth as the bonus points were notched up. Meanwhile, Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire could do nothing about it.
James Buttler, who has enjoyed a prolific second half to the season and could well have caught the eye of England's selectors, lived a slightly fortunate life alongside Hildreth. On 19 he was dropped at slip off Blackwell and the same bowler suffered again when Ruel Brathwaite dropped a sitter at mid-on after Buttler miscued a pull. Brathwaite is trying to impress the coaching staff at Durham during his two-week spell. His fielding won't have helped.
Durham, while trying to maintain their professionalism, started to wear the look of a team ready for the season to end. Buttler continued to play his shots and twice dispatched Blackwell through the leg side then edged Ben Harmison wide of the lone slip. Harmison, though, struck back shortly before lunch when he nipped one in to Buttler's pads - although there was a hint it was missing leg - before Ben Phillips also fell lbw first ball to bring lunch.
Hildreth, though, found a solid partner in Alfonso Thomas as the pair added 58 for the eighth wicket to secure all the batting points. Hildreth, looking to keep the scoring rate high, missed a swing at Brathwaite who then wrapped up the innings to finish with 3 for 93 to put the match back in the hands of Somerset's bowlers.
Phillips removed Mark Stoneman early when the left hander was plumb lbw, but the second-wicket stand proved tough to break as Di Venuto, who passed 1000 runs for the season, and Gordon Muchall added 113 in 30 overs. There was little in the pitch for the quicks and although Murali Kartik found a hint of turn it wasn't alarming. Again, though, Trego showed his skill of taking vital wickets when he removed Muchall with one that kept low.
Di Venuto and Harmison survived the final nine overs to close, albeit with a few alarms against Kartik who almost bowled Harmison. It all comes down to the final day.
Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at Cricinfo