The clock on the old Riverside scoreboard had just turned to 2.15pm yesterday when Phil Mustard dived to grasp a nicked shot from Alistair Brown and effectively put the County Championship title – a second successive County Championship title – in the bag for Durham. The Nottinghamshire batsman stood his ground for several seconds before reluctantly departing. At the other end, Chris Read looked towards the pavilion and gave the universal drinking gesture.
It was a champagne moment for the one-time makeweights turned heavyweights of the English county game. The two bonus points for claiming a sixth Nottinghamshire wicket, together with the five gained from their epic 648 for 5 first innings tally, plus the four points to be earned from a draw (at least) when the game finishes today, add up to the 11 required by Durham to wrap up the championship. And yet there was no more than a bit of mild high-fiving from Mustard, Mark Davies, who had bowled the decisive delivery, and their colleagues.
With one day still to play and the match points yet to be formally deposited, they were keeping the bubbly and the brown ale on ice at the Riverside yesterday. "It would be disrespectful to Nottinghamshire to stage any kind of celebration before the match is over," David Harker, Durham's chief executive, said. Still, with the visitors following on and still 212 adrift, with two second innings wickets down, it would take nothing short of a selective nuclear strike on Chester-le-Street to stop Durham from completing the formalities today, and to deny the north-east sporting public the kind of home coronation last enjoyed in these parts 100 years ago.
Durham's championship success last year was virtually clinched with a Saturday morning win at Canterbury but not sealed until defeat was confirmed for Nottinghamshire against Hampshire some four hours later. Geoff Cook, the Durham coach, and his players were not so much over the moon as under the Thames when the actual winning moment arrived. They were on the team bus going through the Dartford Tunnel – with the Sky television pictures from Trent Bridge temporarily scrambled – when the last Nottinghamshire wicket fell.
Newcastle Falcons were playing at the Stoop in Twickenham when they secured their one and only rugby union Premiership crown in 1998, while the last English league title achieved by one of the clubs from the so-called hotbed of football – by a Sunderland side inspired by the masterful Raich Carter back in 1936, was sealed with a 7-2 win at Birmingham. You have to go back to 12 April 1909 to find the last first-class championship secured on home ground by a North-east football club. Newcastle United beat Everton 3-0 at St James' Park that day. Their right-winger was Jock Rutherford, great-grandfather of Greg Rutherford, the athlete who broke the British long jump record three weeks ago.
There were 30,000 souls celebrating at St James' that afternoon and, with free entry granted for a second successive day, there are likely to be in excess of 5,000 in the Riverside today to see Will Smith, the Durham captain, lift the championship trophy.
There were 4,000 in the ground yesterday and they saw Smith's bowlers claim 10 wickets.
Liam Plunkett plundered six of them, in return for 85 first-innings runs. There were four first-innings wickets – plus one in the second – for another Teessider, Mark Davies. There was also one for the native Sydneysider Mitch Claydon. Sadly, though, there was no success for Steve Harmison. His 28 first innings overs came at a cost of 103 runs.
On the day he found himself derailed on the central contract front, it was the best of times and the worst of times for the Ashington Express.