Durham close to clinching title as keen Mustard makes amends

Nottinghamshire 78 Durham 207-8

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The Independent Online

Durham can expect to secure the County Championship by Thursday at the latest. Given the tumultuous start today to their penultimate match of the season it is astounding they will be detained so long.

Sixteen wickets had fallen before 55 overs had been completed. It was the kind of pitch where any ball might have your name on it, a feature that was greatly assisted by batsman after batsman rushing to help with the engraving.

Nottinghamshire turned up on time for the early start but it was about the limit of their achievement. Their collective mind was on the YB40 final at Lord's on Saturday and this game seemed to be a major impediment. No matter that it was still mathematically possible for them to be relegated.

By lunch, the hapless visitors had been dismissed for 78 after choosing to bat, neither having the stomach nor summoning the necessary technique to deal with their opponents' key seam bowl pairing of Graham Onions and Chris Rushworth.

Whether beset by nerves at the sight of the finishing line or being disturbed by batting second for the first time this season in a home match, Durham were also soon in a similar mire at 45 for 5 and then 74 for 6.

But a seventh-wicket partnership of 121 between Paul Collingwood and Philip Mustard which was both diligent and entertaining (guess who was which) effectively took the match out of Nottinghamshire's hands. By the close Durham had taken their lead to 129 with two first-innings wickets left.

The stand also curtailed debate about the merits of the pitch. The ECB pitch inspector, Jack Birkenshaw, was in attendance but did not look minded to write a scathing report. Birkenshaw has been around long enough to know that sporting pitches allied to exemplary bowling and careless batting make for a lethal combination but not points docking.

Nottinghamshire made it as far as the fourth over before losing their first wicket, although the victim, Steven Mullaney, had already been dropped behind before Scott Borthwick pouched him at second slip. When wicketkeeper Mustard shelled his second opportunity of the morning, the ball bursting through his gloves at a little above waist height, it seemed that Nottinghamshire's negligence might go unpunished.

But there was plenty more where that came from. Mustard swiftly atoned by swooping low to his left to catch Michael Lumb off Onions, Riki Wessels was lbw to a seaming ball that beat his defensive prod and James Taylor culpably shouldered arms to a ball cutting back. It was not the most judicious of strokes for Taylor to be playing with an Ashes squad to be picked and the selector James Whittaker watching like a hawk.

So the headlong rush continued. Nobody was willing to knuckle down and do the hard graft necessary. Chris Read, who looks to have tired of baling his side out of deep holes, played a hugely optimistic, ill-considered swish and was leg-before. Resistance came there none and before lunch, in 26.5 overs, the innings was done.

There was spark of a fight left with Andre Adams and Luke Fletcher right on the button. The first six Durham wickets all went to catches behind the wicket, Adams claiming four of them with appreciable movement. They included Ben Stokes who arrived late, having driven up from Southampton where had played for England the previous night. His mind was probably still on the motorway – just as Notts' was on Lord's – and it seemed strange that he did not bat lower in the order.

It took all Collingwood's experience to negotiate the recovery, and Mustard was eventually commanding, timing the ball as no-one else had managed. With Yorkshire's slender title ambitions further eroded by poor weather at Headingley, the gap will shortly become too large to close.