Durham 245 and 212 for 6 (Mustard 57*, Collingwood 45) lead Sussex 112 (Onions 4-50, Arshad 3-16) by 345 runs
Taking captaincy decisions after consulting the weather forecast is not normally recommended practice but should Paul Collingwood, the Durham skipper, find himself staring out at a covered square on Friday with Sussex clinging on, eight wickets down, he will be cursing this match as a missed opportunity.
The win that would see Durham leapfrog Yorkshire at the top of the Championship table, with an advantage of 14 and a half points with three matches to play, is theirs for the taking, with a lead that would already require Sussex to make the largest fourth-innings score to win a match on this ground.
The dilemma for Collingwood is that, with two full days left, he would not want a repeat of what happened here in April, in Durham's only defeat at home, when he declared at 275 for 4, leaving Yorkshire to chase an unlikely 335 to win, only for Andrew Gale's side to pull it off, with four wickets in hand.
Whether that could have happened had Joe Root not been in the Yorkshire side to make 182 is a matter for conjecture. On a wicket that has for the most part not yielded runs easily, however, no one in a depleted Sussex line-up has hinted at achieving anything remotely of that magnitude. Given Friday's wet forecast, Collingwood would be wise not to old his bowlers back for too long on day three.
Collingwood's record of 11 wins in 18 Championship matches since he succeeded Phil Mustard as captain ought, in any case, to have given him confidence in his decision-making. The calmness and authority he brings to his leadership were qualities that served him well in steering Durham to their position of strength in this game. It was his partnership of 93 with Mustard for the sixth Durham wicket that put him in control.
It came on a day in which Sussex, 60 for 3 overnight, were bowled out for 112 before lunch, a fairly abject performance, even taking into account their long list of absentees, that handed Durham first-innings lead of 133.
This looked like a match-winning advantage on a ground where low scoring is usual but there was less certainty about it after none of their top five batsmen scored more than 22 in their second innings, leaving them 90 for 5. There was no Chris Jordan in their seam attack, compounding the effects of Luke Wright, Ed Joyce and Matt Machan being absent from their batting line-up -- all due to international call-ups -- but Steve Magoffin was as impressive as ever, and well backed up, too by Lewis Hatchett and James Anyon.
Magoffin struck first as Keaton Jennings, still to find consistency with the bat, fell to a diving catch by Chris Nash at third slip, then Mark Stoneman, having unleashed a couple of handsome boundaries through the covers, was leg before to Anyon, who then made the ball bounce and leave Scott Borthwick, who was caught behind.
Will Smith, for the second time in the match, paid the price for a loose drive outside off stump, and when Michael Richardson was caught behind, Durham's lead was 223. A couple more wickets lost at that point and Sussex might have sensed an opportunity to put themselves back in the race.
Instead, they came up against Collingwood in obdurate mood, setting the tone for Mustard to adopt a similarly measured approach and while the next 35 overs did not contain many moment that will readily bring the passage of play to mind, the end result was a stand of 93, in which Collingwood scored most of his runs behind square, with a nudge here and a dab there, and he had made 45 before he played back to a ball from offspinner Chris Nash. Mustard is 57 not out overnight.
Earlier, Sussex had capitulated within the first 22.5 overs of the morning session. Graham Onions added two more wickets on his return from injury to the couple he picked up on Tuesday evening, taking his tally for the season to 48. There is something in this pitch for the bowlers to work with and no one exploits it better than Onions, even on days such as this when he was not at his most niggardly, struggling to find his rhythm.
In any event, Luke Wells and Rory Hamilton-Brown helped him out by chasing balls outside off stump, falling in turn to catches behind the wicket. Usman Arshad, a 20-year-old right-arm seamer making only his second Championship appearance, took three wickets in seven balls. Yet Chris Rushworth, who bowled better than any among Durham's seam quartet, somehow ended wicketless.