Durham had every reason to wail and gnash their teeth in frustration yesterday as Sussex, led by the opener Chris Nash, fought back after a calamitous upper-order collapse to force a tense draw. It was the defending champions' third on the trot.
It is doubtful whether a dentist could have removed Nash, so solid did he look. And although he did dig in he still played some attractive shots whenever the Durham attack strayed off line or length, which was not often. His main focus was to steady Sussex after they had lost half their wickets either side of tea.
By the time both sides tiredly shook hands late in the afternoon, Nash had scored his first half-century of the season. He had also found, in Andrew Hodd, a partner who could stick around. But there had been a few alarms before the pair's 50-partnership stopped the rot. Sussex's captain, Michael Yardy, went in the third over, driving to be caught in the gully off Steven Harmison. Three overs later Ed Joyce lost his off stump to Callum Thorp.
From that moment on the Sussex thinking would have switched from wondering if there were enough overs in which to score the 317 needed for victory, to worrying whether they would be able to hold out. For a shade over three quarters of an hour Murray Goodwin injected some purpose and pace into the run chase, but just when he looked to be getting into his stride and the home fans were settling deeper into the deckchairs at the Cromwell Road End, he was dismissed, lbw, by Mitchell Claydon.
Had it not been for Nash gritting his teeth and getting his head down, things could have descended into misery. As it was they suffered a blow on the first ball after tea when Rory Hamilton-Brown drove Liam Plunkett straight to Dale Benkenstein at cover. Luke Wright became Plunkett's second victim two overs later, taken at slip, and things were looking grim until Nash and Hodd did their stuff.
The morning had begun with the news that the umpire Nigel Cowley had stood down because he was suffering from a chest infection and had gone home. His place was taken by Steve Garratt, who was appointed to the first-class list last season.
After that, the morning session just dribbled slowly by, and there was certainly no indication that Gordon Muchall, who scored just one run in the first hour, would go on to reach three figures. Michael Di Venuto managed that as well, reaching his second hundred in his last four Championship innings, although once there he was caught behind off Robin Martin-Jenkins. Both batsmen were helped by the fact that the Sussex attack had lost Damien Wright to a side strain.
One reason for Muchall's slowness might well have been the fact that the last time he scored a Championship hundred was when Tony Blair was still prime minister, against Lancashire in April 2006. His four-hour stint here was ended not by a Sussex bowler but by his own captain, Will Smith, who declared the innings closed with Durham 316 runs ahead, thus leaving Sussex 56 overs in which to challenge that total.Reuse content