Durham coronation held up by Steve Mullaney's defiance
Nottinghamshire 78 & 246 Durham 256 & 7-0
The trophy was inscribed, the champagne was on ice, the local broadcasting stations arrived in their legions, the faithful supporters were rapt in anticipation. But Durham must wait for their third County Championship title in six seasons.
They will need 62 more runs to defeat Nottinghamshire today to ensure the successful fruition of a magnificent and unexpected campaign. The match might have finished on its second day but the opposition remembered what it was they were there for and demonstrated some resolve.
It was late and it was little but it meant that Durham ran out of time to secure their just deserts. Even with weather about, as they say in these parts, they will not be denied now.
The win will be their 10th of the season and their fifth in succession, both of them county records. As so often before this summer, they squeezed the life out of their opponents today.
Led with cunning charm by Paul Collingwood they cemented their lead in the morning. Collingwood was slightly more adventurous than he had been the previous day in advancing to a season's best 88 not out, but these judgements are relative.
He continued to leave, to nudge and to nurdle but now occasionally he shovelled as well. If it was not aesthetically pleasing it was still delightful. Collingwood has made a wonderful career out of these attributes, and the fact that he took 184 balls in constructing his latest monument to grit and cussedness will have pleased him more than anything.
Durham established a first-innings lead of 178. They have been ahead in all eight home matches and by today will have won six of them. The conditions may not be to everyone's liking but Durham know precisely how to play them, patiently and judiciously.
There was just the chance that Nottinghamshire might call it a day two days early, so they could bolt for Lord's and the Yorkshire Bank 40 final on Saturday. Instead, they showed a modicum of professionalism and resistance, both necessary qualities when faced by Durham's bowling.
Steve Mullaney scored a pleasing 72, although he was dropped twice, at the wicket on 14 and at slip on 59. There were two half-century partnerships, two more than in the first innings, between Mullaney and Michael Lumb, and David Hussey and Paul Franks.
But these were built around the crucial loss of three top-order wickets for nine runs. The tail played a few shots without planning permanence.
There were three late wickets for Ben Stokes, who had limped off earlier in the middle of an over, briefly forcing a rethink on England's potential Ashes squad. The admirable Scott Borthwick ended the irksome seventh-wicket union with his leg spin, a smart change by Collingwood when it was needed.
Only an over remained when Durham began their second innings and they decided against asking for the permitted extra half-hour. There was no rush, they will have plenty of time to savour their achievement today.
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