Di Venuto's double ton puts Durham on brink of second title

Durham 377-1 v Nottinghamshire
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The Independent Online

When Durham won their first title at Canterbury last year, there were understandable jubilation. The county only became first-class in 1991 and based on the experiences of certain counties they could have expected a short wait of, say, 134 years (stand up, Somerset) and counting for their maiden pennant. They're a bit more impatient up north, however, and spurred on by last year's triumph Durham are closing in on another title in 2009.

Durham needed 11 points to secure primacy at the start of their current match against Nottinghamshire and, thanks largely to the efforts of Michael Di Venuto, who shared an opening stand of 314 with Kyle Coetzer and remained unbeaten on 219, they have four of them already. They need just 23 more runs to secure another point and, having closed on 377 for 1, they now look virtually certain to clinch the title with two games still to play.

Nothing would go right for Nottinghamshire. Charlie Shreck and Darren Pattinson beat the bat a few times in the morning, then they lost their captain and wicketkeeper, Chris Read, with a dislocated thumb just before lunch. He is not expected to bat.

Bilal Shafayat took over behind the stumps, then Shreck limped off in the afternoon with a knee injury and is to have a scan today.

The only wicket Nottinghamshire took came courtesy of a run out with Coetzer on 107, his second Championship century having arrived two years after the first.

He set off from the non-striker's end and failed to beat Mark Ealham's throw from wide mid-off when sent back. Di Venuto had risked a similar single on 43 and was given the benefit of the doubt when Ealham scored a direct hit. Otherwise it was a flawless performance, in which he scored 105 in the afternoon session, his fastest 50 being the second as it came off only 44 balls.

Durham's previous best partnership for the first wicket in the Championship was 202, shared by Wayne Larkins and Graeme Fowler against Warwickshire at Darlington in 1993.

Di Venuto and Coetzer were only one short of the county's record stand for any wicket in four-day cricket, set by Dale Benkenstein and Ottis Gibson to stave off relegation at Headingley three years ago.

In his five previous Championship innings this season Coetzer had a top score of 38 and had twice got out for 30. This time he knuckled down in the 30s after leaving his partner in the blocks in the early overs.

Although some of his runs came off thick edges to the unguarded third man area, he also played several handsome off-side drives as he got to 34 with Di Venuto on 10.

But when Ealham replaced Shreck with the score on 80 after 22 overs, Di Venuto drove his first ball to the cover boundary, then edged a four to move ahead of Coetzer, who finally reached his hundred off 215 balls with 20 fours.

Di Venuto converted his fifth century of the season into his second double. Only Paul Collingwood, with six in 2005, has scored more hundreds in one campaign for Durham.

Kent are looking likely to join Durham in the top flight next season after they went to 390 for 4 against Middlesex at Uxbridge. Darren Stevens was unbeaten on 129 at the close, while 19-year-old opener Sam Northeast, batting in place of England's Joe Denly, hit a quickfire 84.