Brown's blitz leaves Durham struggling to save unbeaten run

Durham 218 & 87-4 Nottinghamshire 559-8d
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The Independent Online

Given that this is only the second week in May and the season ends in the third week of September it seems faintly ridiculous to speculate with conviction about who might win the Championship. But if Nottinghamshire finish off title-holders Durham today to complete a fourth win from as many matches, it will be difficult not to conclude that the transfer of power has already begun.

Durham can plead extenuating circumstances but the manner in which Ali Brown, Chris Read and Paul Franks batted them out of the game here yesterday was compellingly impressive nonetheless.

Brown set the standard, dispelling any notion that, at 40, he might have lost an appetite for batting which has amassed him more than 16,000 first-class runs, with a brilliant 134.

Yet it had appeared for a while that Nottinghamshire were no more at home on this pitch than Durham had been in scraping together 218. After the opening 40 minutes, when Chris Rushworth took his maiden first-class wicket as Mark Wagh aimed a careless drive at the first ball of the day and went on to claim two more, they were six down and only eight runs in front.

But then Read, the Nottinghamshire captain arrived, at which point Brown went on the counter-attack with a gusto that exposed Durham's troubles painfully. The champions are missing three bowlers through injury, while Steve Harmison and Liam Plunkett, both less than fully fit, might have been missing too in other circumstances. Dale Benkenstein is playing but cannot bowl.

Having accelerated the total to 333-6 at lunch, Notts added another 130 before Brown's 121-ball blitz ended with Phil Mustard plucking an uppercut out of the air above his head.

The former England one-day batsman, the first of whose 46 career hundreds was made against Nottinghamshire for Surrey in 1992, had hit 17 fours and three sixes. He also passed 1,000 career runs in matches against Durham at an average of 59.35.

The alliance with Read, who survived a painful blow on the right hand on 73 and was caught off a no-ball on 87, added 237 in 42 overs. Read's unbeaten 124 took him beyond 10,000 career runs. Franks pitched in with 64 off 45 balls as Steve Harmison went for 123 in 28 overs. Durham, unbeaten in 23 Championship games, have conceded more than 500 first-innings runs in back-to-back games for the first time since 1992.

Read declared at tea, 341 in front, after which Darren Pattinson dismissed Michael di Venuto and Steven Mullaney had Will Smith caught behind as Durham lost their first four second innings wickets for 86.