Harmison gets break as Durham dominate

Durham 264-2 Sussex

The difficulties of being Steve Harmison continue. The England fast bowler's commitment to helping Durham defend their Championship crown is beyond question but even he must have heaved a weary sigh at the prospect of driving home from Edgbaston late on Thursday evening to rejoin his teammates here.

His late release from the third Test came about because England would not name a starting line-up until they knew how truncated the contest might be. It was hardly ideal preparation for a four-day match, although after being deemed surplus to requirements at Lord's two weeks ago, he drove straight to Trent Bridge and was bowling barely an hour after pulling into the car park.

This time, at least, the boots could remain in his cricket bag as the burden of frustration passed to the seven bowlers employed by Sussex, whose labours were rewarded with just two wickets as Michael di Venuto and Will Smith took control on a pitch that offered little encouragement to seamer or spinner.

It will take all of Harmison's hostility to bring about a change in its character when Sussex bat, although that does not look like being any time soon after Durham's second-wicket pair completed a century each on a day on which the passing of Sir Bobby Robson, who was an honorary member here, was marked with a minute's silence and the wearing of black armbands by both sets of players.

Durham had a lead of 24 points going into this round, even after sitting out last week's action. Another victory here will make them hard to dislodge and Smith, the Durham captain, should be well satisfied with the outcome after winning the toss and choosing to bat first.

Scoring runs was never a cakewalk. The square here was flooded a couple of weeks ago and both pitch and outfield were slow. Those toiling Sussex bowlers, moreover, deserve credit for keeping up their workrate for such paltry returns. They could have had better luck, particularly Corey Collymore, who managed to have both batsmen playing and missing well into their innings.

Smith, in fact, seldom looked particularly comfortable for long and rarely had a run of fluent strokes. But he grafted away with commendable application and though his scoring rate was barely better than a run every three balls faced, he stuck around long enough to register his first hundred of the season before Collymore, with the new ball, at last found a way through to clip the off bail.

Di Venuto was rather more watchable but he too needed to bring his experience to bear. His century – a second against his former county this season – came off 150 balls with 15 fours, a good proportion of which came from cuts or drives through the off side. The partnership of 231 was a Durham record against Sussex.

The early wicket to fall had been that of Mark Stoneman, who pushed at one from Yasir Arafat that left him a little, Mike Yardy taking the catch at first slip.