Nottinghamshire 171 and 79 for 9 (Harmison 6-20) trail Durham 356 by 106 runs
Only rain delayed Durham's seemingly inexorable progress towards a second successive championship title. The victory march turned into a rout on the third day, as the demoralised home team hardly raised a flicker of resistance to the powerful Durham bowling attack, spearheaded by an impressive Steve Harmison, with six wickets as his reward for superb bowling, and are likely to go down for the lowest total they have ever made against these opponents. Only an infuriating and virtually insignificant drizzle meant that Durham have to go into the fourth day with only one wicket to take to complete an innings victory.
After falling 185 runs behind on the first innings, Nottinghamshire began the morning following on. If their first innings had been disappointing, their second was a progressive disaster. They did make what might be termed a better start, in that they managed a single off the first over, but that was as far as it went. Matt Wood briefly showed some enterprise, scoring 9 off 12 balls, before becoming the third batsman in the match to be out caught at the wicket off the inside edge as he tried to drive Mark Davies..
His opening partner Bilal Shafayat at that point had yet to score, and he took 17 balls to get off the mark, before slashing a ball from Harmison just over point to the boundary. Mark Wagh had a lucky escape, getting off the mark by lobbing a ball just over the bowler's head, but then he sliced a drive off Davies to backward point to be out for 6. Shafayat was next to go; immediately after cutting Harmison, who had changed to the pavilion end, for four, he tried to avoid playing the following ball and was extremely reluctant to depart on being given out caught behind for 12.
Nottinghamshire were now 38 for 3, and this was virtually the high point of their innings. Samit Patel had begun his innings with a superb straight drive for four off Callum Thorp, the best shot of the morning. He lost David Hussey, lbw for 5, trying to turn a ball from Thorp to leg, and then swatted a head-high, off-side bouncer from Harmison straight to Dale Benkenstein, who gratefully accepted his second catch at backward point.
The downward plunge of the Nottinghamshire batting intensified. Harmison stepped up his pace from his admirably disciplined spells of the previous day and often made the ball fly from the slow pitch, throwing in regular bouncers. It wasn't quite the ferocious assault he had unleashed on Yorkshire the previous week, but it was still high class and far too hostile for the demoralised home side. At the other end he was well backed up by Thorp, although the batsmen failed to take advantage of the loose deliveries as they should have done.
Ali Brown fell for 5, attempting to hook a bouncer from Harmison. Beaten for pace, Brown could only sky the ball to fine leg, where Davies completed an excellent catch. Chris Read (4) likewise fell to the bouncer, but was slow to depart after the umpire adjudged that he had top-edged a catch to the Durham keeper Phil Mustard. Andre Adams clearly had no relish for Harmison's bowling, attempting to play him from the region of square leg before slicing a catch to backward point.
All this time rain was approaching, but the home side seemed unwilling to consider the possibility of their being saved by the weather. They were struggling on 68 for 8 as they walked off for lunch, and immediately the heavens opened.
It was nearly three hours before play was again possible, and then only for 12 minutes. Mark Ealham immediately cut Ian Blackwell for two fours, and then an off-drive made him the top scorer of the innings. In between he lost Ryan Sidebottom, fending off a bouncer from Harmison to short leg. With last man Charlie Shreck, a man unsullied by batting competence, at the crease, a light drizzle started and the umpires decided to evacuate the field, at 79 for 9.
There followed one of those ridiculous situations which does cricket no credit, when the slightest persistent drizzle of rain was deemed sufficient to keep the players off the field. Only after six o'clock was the game finally abandoned for the day, allowing both the remaining spectators to return home. It could take just one ball on the fourth day for justice to be done for Durham. If the rain keeps off.