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Blackwell and Mustard preserve Durham record

Essex 484 Durham 198 & 352-7

Promoted Essex saw their chances of toppling champions Durham at their home fortress thwarted by a combination of greatly improved batting and the weather.

Unbeaten at Chester-le-Street since June 2008, Durham looked doomed at lunch, when they still needed 43 to avoid an innings defeat with five wickets standing.

However, half-centuries from Ian Blackwell and Phil Mustard ensured there was to be no repeat of the previous day's debacle, when 11 wickets had gone down for 78 runs.

Durham were 45 ahead with three wickets left when rain arrived at 3.20 and after a brief resumption they closed on 352 for 7.

In an otherwise modest Essex attack, the absence of Danish Kaneria had given an opportunity to left-arm spinner Tim Phillips, who took 3 for 8 after being belatedly introduced in the first innings.

He was on as early as the 10th over second time around, when he had the advantage of bowling into the rough outside off-stump to the four left- handers in Durham's top seven.

While Phillips often found dangerous turn and lift, he also bowled too many bad balls in finishing with 4 for 113 in 36 overs.

He posed little threat in the first 90 minutes, when Dale Benkenstein and Michael Di Venuto were stretching their stand from its overnight 143 to 212. Then, in one of several extraordinary twists in the game, one departed for 98 and the other for 99 in successive overs from Phillips. And when Ben Stokes pulled a catch to midwicket, the trend of big stands being followed by a clatter of wickets looked set to continue.

It was not to be for Essex but their coach, Paul Grayson, said: "Over the four days we have dominated the game against the champions and we will take a lot of confidence from this."