Durham clinched their second County Championship title in a row, even though Nottinghamshire, their closest rivals for much of the season, tried hard to deny them a victory in front of their own supporters.
Nottinghamshire's resistance ended at 3.45pm when Steve Harmison, setting aside the disappointment of losing his England contract, bowled Mark Ealham with the second new ball. In truth, after insuring themselves against defeat by scoring 648 for 5, the title had been Durham's since 2.15pm on Friday, when Liam Plunkett dismissed Ally Brown to guarantee the 11 points needed to put them out of reach of all pursuers.
Although Harmison had the honour of taking the decisive wicket for the second year running, it was Plunkett who played the key role with the ball, finishing with nine wickets in the match.
Harmison said that winning the Ashes twice was more significant than his two titles with Durham but there was a poignancy in his admission that he would toast this win with greater gusto. "I'll celebrate more because I've played more for Durham this year," he said, before deflecting questions about his international future. "That's for another day," he said.
Durham, who collected £100,000 last year, are the first county to benefit from the largesse of the England and Wales Cricket Board, who increased the top prize to £500,000 this season as a counter to the Twenty20 boom. Yet such rewards are still dwarfed by the riches on offer in the short game. The Durham players will receive £23,000 each. The winners of the Twenty20 Champions League in India next month will pocket approximately £115,000 per man.
"It is a welcome increase and reinforces the message that the Championship is important," the Durham chief executive, David Harker, said. "But when you look at what players can earn in the Indian Premier League there is no comparison."
This is an impressive Durham team and the international demands on Graham Onions and Harmison, their two leading wicket-takers, as well as the perpetually absent Paul Collingwood, have not impeded them. Michael Di Venuto and Dale Benkenstein have provided runs; Plunkett, Callum Thorp and – when fit – Mark Davies a valuable supply of wickets. The major signing, Ian Blackwell, has done well with bat and ball.
On the other hand, the competition has not been particularly strong. Durham have trailed on first innings only once all season and their progress has been disturbed by no more than the occasional shaky session. Worcestershire and Lancashire had them in trouble at the Riverside in June but they recovered to win both matches. What is more, Durham have dominated without an overseas player for much of the season. They may recruit only for one-day competitions next year.
Nottinghamshire, with the not insignificant incentive of £225,000 for finishing second, chased a draw. Alex Hales, their 20-year-old opener, scored 78 after his first-innings 62, although it was his call – combined with sharp fielding by Shivnarine Chanderpaul at cover – that led to Bilal Shafayat being run-out just before lunch in what was perhaps the day's turning point.Reuse content