Durham 471 (Smith 153, Wood 58) and 184 for 4 (Mustard 72, Stoneman 69) beat Nottinghamshire 320 (Taylor 97, Mullaney 80) and 333 (Lumb 123, Swann 57, Borthwick 4-87) by six wickets

With a sprint finish to a marathon, Durham claimed a victory that speaks volumes for their character, their determination and their team spirit. A game that had appeared to be drifting to a draw was invigorated by Durham's failure to accept anything other than victory and a late run-chase that defied the pedestrian nature of the game that preceded it.

In years to come, people will look at the scorecard, see a six-wicket margin and presume this was a straightforward victory. It was not so. To put Durham's fourth-innings target, 183 in 23 overs, in perspective, they have only surpassed such a score four times in their T20 history and on those occasions they were helped by fielding restrictions, bowling restrictions and tighter regulations over wides. This should have proved immensely challenging.

Yet they made it look easy. With Mark Stoneman - who reached his 50 in 24 balls - and Phil Mustard - who reached his in 30 - putting them on course with an opening stand of 125 in 11 overs, they cruised to victory with 16 deliveries to spare and only needed to strike six boundaries in the final 9.2 overs. It is their second win of the season.

There were some alarm bells along the way. Durham were forced out of their hotel at 2am by sustained fire alarms (the second for an actual fire) and, after a couple of hours waiting in the streets, were finally moved to a different hotel just before 5am.

But despite the imperfect preparation, Durham won this game not just because, in Will Smith, they had a batsmen with the determination to play the innings the conditions demanded, and not just because, in Mark Wood, they had a bowler capable of belying a lifeless pitch, but because they wanted to win it more than Nottinghamshire. While Nottinghamshire's batsmen squandered their wickets with loose strokes, Durham sold theirs dearly and, during a labour-sapping third innings, never gave up on victory despite 116 overs in the field. Graham Onions later called it "the best win I've been involved in."

The aggression of the Durham openers appeared to leave Nottinghamshire shell-shocked. Stuart Broad, captain of England's T20 side, persisted in bowling short in conditions where it was inappropriate, Luke Fletcher, hampered by a sore ankle, bowled too full and Ajmal Shahzad, after placing four fielders on the leg side boundary, delivered a half volley a foot outside off stump. After his one over cost 19, he was not trusted again.

While Graeme Swann and Samit Patel applied some brakes, the damage had been done. A team stuffed with internationals - including two bowlers who played in England's winning World T20 side in 2010 - had shown a remarkable lack of composure under pressure and been punished for it.

"They didn't bowl particularly well," Mustard, the one man to sleep through the fire alarms, agreed. "Broad didn't set the tone very well by bowling short and I think they were a bit shocked by the way we came at them. I thought they were just out of reach when we started, so to win like that is an amazing achievement."

But Durham's work started much earlier than that. On a desperately slow wicket - it was dubbed "ridiculous" by Mustard - it proved hard to bowl Nottinghamshire out and, by the time they extended their second innings to 4.05pm, it appeared the draw was assured. By then Michael Lumb had scored his first century since July and it seemed a chance he offered on 83 - a top-edged pull off Scott Borthwick that fell gently to ground between two fielders - might have been crucial.

But though Borthwick delivered the odd poor ball, he did gain turn and remained a threat despite the slowness of the pitch. He eventually had Fletcher and Chris Read caught off the inside edge as they prodded forward to leg breaks and Broad taken at silly point. Lumb fell to a leading edge and, each time it seemed Nottinghamshire were on the verge of safety, Durham claimed a wicket to sustain their interest.

For that reason, this loss will smart Nottinghamshire for some time. They seemed to have done the hard work on the final day, with their final pair of Swann and Shazad resisting for 22.3 overs to add 75 runs and apparently make the game safe. Swann's leg before dismissal, which he clearly felt was unjust, was a crucial moment.

Swann will feel the pain of this defeat more than most. Not only did he produce his highest Championship score for five years, but he also produced his best Championship bowling figures since his Test debut in December 2008. Yet he finished on the losing side, black and blue after sustaining blows to the head, arm and foot in a sharp new ball spell from Onions and hauled in front of the umpires for showing dissent when he was given out. A points penalty is probable. It cannot have left him in the best frame of mind to attend his first benefit function in the evening, where he was due to speak and sing.

Nottinghamshire's fourth innings bowling may gain the most attention - and it really was far from clever - but they put themselves in trouble much earlier in the match. For the top-order to slip to 98 for 4 in the first innings and 94 for 4 in the second on this surface was unacceptable. Their leading batsmen played some sloppy cricket and were embarrassed by the excellence of the Durham lower order and Smith who, had there been a Man of the Match award, would surely have won it.

"It's not rocket science," Mick Newell, their director of cricket, said. "They have to start scoring some runs. "They need to show concentration and determination. Maybe they play too much limited-overs cricket.

"I'm not that worried by the last hour-and-a-half as, in the T20 age, defending a total like that can be hard. I'm more concerned that we kept digging holes for ourselves throughout the game. We were just about at the stage where we thought we had made it safe, but we didn't get it quite right.

"That was not a pitch that suited our style and we'll need more in it for our quick bowlers in future. But yes, there was a self-inflicted element to that defeat."

It is the first time since 1998 Nottinghamshire have lost their first two home games in the Championship. While relegation should not be an issue, they do have some issues to address as regards application and concentration. Put simply, they have to try harder.

They could learn much from Durham. They may not be Championship contenders just yet but, under Paul Collingwood's captaincy and boasting some precocious talents, they are surely the most improved side in domestic cricket over the last 12 months.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo