David Hopps writes on county cricket for ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps
Essex 182 and 301 (Wheater 81, ten Doeschate 55, Raine 5-64) beat Durham 99 (Cook 4-38, Porter 3-27, Siddle 3-29) and 189 (Lees 48, Porter 4-31, Siddle 3-47) by 195 runs
As far as the County Championship is concerned, the relevance of Essex's 189-win victory over Durham is that, with time running out, it has energised the defence of their title. But the ramifications go far wider, especially for cricket statisticians, who can be guaranteed to be in a stage of high excitement after the contest set a new record for the number of lbws in a first-class match in England.
As many as 19 lbws were awarded by umpires David Millns and James Middlebrook at Chester-le-Street and it should be said in these days of video replays that, for the neutral observer, the overwhelming majority looked bang to rights.
That the England (and Wales) record was beaten on a glorious sun-drenched evening in England's most northerly first-class cricketing outpost when Jack Burnham, a former England U19 batsman suffering hard times, was struck in front by the former Australian international Peter Siddle. Burnham's meaningful shrug appeared to be somewhat defeatist after Durham had battled grimly for much of the day against the spectre of near-inevitable defeat.
To discover a first-class match with more lbws it was necessary, according to the Association of Cricket Statisticians and Historians, to turn to Guyana v Jamaica last year, which jointly holds the all-time record along with the West Indies v Pakistan Test in Guyana in 2011, both of them played at Providence Stadium. It is hard to suppress the ignoble thought that Guyana and Chester-le-Street are blood brothers, being the Test venues that many in authority would prefer to ignore.
Ultimately this contest had to settle, globally, for joint second spot, alongside two India first-class matches - Patiala's match against Delhi in 1953-54 and a more recent clash between Uttar Pradesh and Railways in Lucknow four years ago.
Quite whether the Maharajah of Patiala, the last of the nine Maharajas, was so full of statistical anticipation after Delhi's win (a world record at the time) sadly goes unrecorded, but it is likely it passed him by, on accounts of it being Christmas and the World Wide Web not quite being a thing. Interestingly, he did not bat in the first innings, but claimed a half-century batting at No. 11 second time around.
Six years ago, the Daily Express suggested that Gareth Sanders, a cleaning company manager from Bristol, had broken the world's most boring world record by ironing for more than 80 hours. If you think that's boring, imagine how the person felt who had to check that he was doing it properly.
Statisticians can cavil all they like, but for two sessions this England (and Wales) record moved closer in an atmosphere of unremitting tedium. Durham needed 385 to win, they had never successfully chased more than 318 when they beat Nottinghamshire 20 years ago, and they had never conceded a chase of 335 here. But they had a new captain, new resolve and a relaid square on which Derbyshire had blocked out for a draw in April by losing only five wickets on the final day.
It is possible to have sympathy for the groundstaff, who needed strong April grass growth after their winter's refurbishments but were instead treated to one of the coldest, driest Aprils on record, and also register the fact that Chester-le-Street is not providing entertaining cricket. A meteorological record has helped to bring about a cricketing record: a square bereft of pace and bounce had to start damp (hence excessive seam) before reverting to its natural state: joyless and unresponsive and occasionally given to grubbers.
Durham acquitted themselves professionally to the task which was impressive stuff as far as professionalism goes but, as they crawled to 137 for 3 midway through the 64th over, it did not represent Bank Holiday entertainment.
Cameron Bancroft's foot movement and defensive position to a back-of-a-length delivery was classically Australian, which meant he was bowled by the first low delivery of the day. Scott Borthwick, the skipper, was shin before wicket for 29 and walked off as if life was weighing heavily upon him; a man on such a long contract needs to concentrate on the long game. Alex Lees batted soundly for 48 then fell to the old partnership-breaker trick as Ryan ten Doeschate, four overs bowled all season, banged one in short at about 70mph and Lees found mid-off off a leading edge.
Play low, however, and survival was possible. Essex attacked the stumps with unrelenting determination, the tone set by the admirable Jamie Porter who began with nine overs for eight runs. It was a dirty job and someone had to do it. Everybody did.
Michael Jones averages 10 in 12 Durham innings but he has learnt a thing or two from batting on Scottish pitches and has a career to save. He resisted with great determination for 35 from 126 balls - his Mum may remember the details - then got the worst lbw decision of the match when Sam Cook nipped one back enough to be missing leg stump.
Essex then closed the game out as the last seven wickets fell for 52 in 24 overs, Siddle and Porter, in particular, suddenly finding movement where there was little before. Once the key break is made what appears to be difficult suddenly becomes straightforward. Take note that they won this game without their talisman, the offspinner Simon Harmer, taking a wicket.
As well as a statistician's match, it was a coach's match. Durham's coach James Franklin, called the pitch "tricky". Essex's coach, Anthony McGrath said: "It was a very interesting game because conditions changed so much from day one" and talked about character and skill.
Bully for them. They had good reason to be impressed with those under their command but for spectators in need of entertainment after 20 months without live cricket, this was inadequate. Essex go top of Group One, at least for 24 hours, but they have played a game more. Given better pitches, this group can reach an exciting conclusion.