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16th September 2008

Durham CCC draw with Sussex CCC

They are both therefore booked in for tough assignments in next week’s final round – when, of the two, the pressure will be considerably less for Durham, needing in their match at Kent to somehow overturn a 10-point deficit behind leaders Nottinghamshire to sneak a maiden title.

Champions Sussex, meanwhile, face a particularly uncomfortable time in a relegation battle at home to Yorkshire which they will begin with a four-point advantage – and in the knowledge two other teams are still also in realistic danger of the dreaded drop.

The outlook could have been significantly worse for Sussex and slightly better for Durham, had Yorkshire’s mini-surge against Somerset at Scarborough continued today.

But instead, there as here, the prospect of a positive result – distant at start of play – amounted to nothing more than a passing morning mirage.

By taking the last four wickets in barely an hour to reduce Sussex to a first-innings 302 all out in reply to 380, Durham did have the option of chasing quick runs to extend their lead and then trying to bowl the visitors out.

If there was serious consideration – and it was a long shot to even contemplate taking 10 wickets in little more than a session on this untypically slow pitch – it was not entertained for long by Durham captain Dale Benkenstein.

Durham lost Ben Harmison to a mistimed chip to mid-on in 11 overs’ batting before lunch and then Will Smith to a neat catch behind by Matt Prior, standing up to Robin Martin-Jenkins.

But with Michael Di Venuto in stoic occupation – 61 not out from 144 balls on his way past 1,000 first-class runs for the summer – and another half-hour taken out of proceedings by mid-afternoon bad light, most of the statistics of a second innings which eventually amounted to 125 for two declared were of record rather than import.

The northerners had begun a sunny morning knowing they needed to make things happen quickly with the ball.

There was just a glimmer of the required gear shift when Mark Davies got one to nip back off the seam to have Chris Adams lbw on the back-foot defence in only the fifth over.

But after Ollie Rayner had a minor slice of luck, off the mark with a thick edge just out of Ben Harmison’s reach at gully off Davies, the suspicion was Durham might have to wait for the assistance of the second new ball to make the batsmen’s mistakes count.

It was a major bonus for the hosts therefore when Martin-Jenkins inside-edged Callum Thorp on to middle-stump and then Mohammad Sami’s attempted hook resulted in a caught-behind duck off the glove in the same over.

There was some Sussex consolation at least when they eked out a precious third batting point, before Jason Lewry became Steve Harmison’s 600th first-class victim – in predictable style, the off bail disturbed when the number 11 missed an attempted smear.

Hopes, even expectations among more optimistic watchers, were at an all-time high that something positive could be salvaged from yet another match blighted by this summer’s appalling weather.

Mark Stoneman (26)
Michael Di Venuto (23)
Will Smith (2)
Shivnarine Chanderpaul (3)
Dale Benkenstein (44) Captain
Phil Mustard (19) Wicket Keeper
Paul Wiseman (8)
Liam Plunkett (20)
Ben Harmison (14)
Stephen Harmison (10)
Mark Davies (4)
Callum Thorp (36)
Gareth Breese (70)