DURHAM’S batting frailties have been a constant frustration this season. His side handily placed going into day four, even coach Geoff Cook was forced to admit when asked about a declaration: “Without being too unkind to us we could be over in three balls!”
In this game, like Durham’s last, the weakness of both teams with the bat has made for an exciting contest, however.
Their 147-7 does not make great reading, but lump in an 80-run lead and it is much more palatable.
Cook said: “I can safely say if we have a full day’s cricket there will be a result.
“Both teams as we stand have pretty much an even chance of winning. The team which plays best will win.”
It was hard to argue. While batsmen came and went, two Durham players identified the fighting spirit difficult conditions and good use of it by the Warwickshire bowlers demanded. Paul Collingwood’s fondness for a scrap is well known but Jamie Harrison’s – nightwatchman for a second day running – less so.
There are technical issues to be addressed with his bowling – his habit of over-stepping the crease cost Durham wickets and points last week, the extra deliveries contributing to their tardy over-rate.
However, his batting in particular has shown a temperament which ought to allow him to make the most of his ability.
Until Collingwood came out in his place, the 21-year-old nightwatchman was the Riversiders’ top-scorer. Harrison had been in a defensive mood early on, waiting until his team passed 50 before cutting behind square for four. A nice shot down the ground followed.
Ben Stokes liked it so much he turned and watched it cross the boundary while his batting partner ran one-and-a-half, just in case.
When he started to get a bit too confident, playing a nice shot on the up through offside for two, Keith Barker rattled his helmet with a short ball he ducked into. Harrison was undeterred, running two more behind square from the next ball.
England under-19 bowler Tom Milnes, making his Championship debut, eventually had him caught at first slip for 23, beating his top score in a first-class career only underway in recent weeks.
There was no such stickability from his team-mates – the durable Collingwood apart. It was bad for Durham, good for the game.
They could have all but played Warwickshire out of this match, but instead have set it up brilliantly for another exciting final day at Chester-le-Street if the weather allows.
Gordon Muchall is in a difficult place, his one-day form seemingly the product of a mysterious twin brother.
He was not helped by Chris Wright’s sparkling form, twice in the opening over angling the ball in and seaming it away.
There was more playing and missing where that came from until a top-edged pull at Chris Woakes.
The ball went up so far, and Muchall was so sure what would happen when it came down, he had almost walked past Jeethan Patel when he caught it at midwicket.
It was a good example of Muchall’s honest self-assessment – not always a good quality when you are struggling so badly for form.
Stokes was more fortunate when he joined Harrison, a team-mate throughout the Cumbrian-raised pair’s teens.
When he drove at Wright, on nine, Varun Chopra spilled the catch and Rikki Clarke, turning back, dropped it too. He failed to make the most of his fortune, nibbling at a Barker outswinger on 14.
Dale Benkenstein drove impressively through the covers off the backfoot, edging over gully Darren Maddy shortly after Harrison’s departure.
He fell victim to a snorter from Woakes, unable to sway out of its path as the ball spat up and homed in on him.
Phil Mustard continued his recent habit of poor dismissals with a loose drive to a ball Maddy floated well outside off stump and Durham were seven down before lunch.
Collingwood and Scott Borthwick built a pleasant 31-run partnership after the interval, the former lucky the man on the point boundary could not race off it to collect his lobbed pull on 18.
Borthwick, in need of some sort of involvement so he does not become a specialist fielder, played a nice shot throughthe offside for four.
Collingwood, who has found his groove when it comes to grafting, was worked hard by Wright, terribly unlucky to end an impressive day wicketless.
Shortly after being put on his backside by a bouncer, a Wright delivery spat at his right hand.
He was treated for around five minutes and when that was done, the umpires decided the light had worsened.
Through a combination of gloom and rain, they never came back but Collingwood did with good news from the hospital. A hasty x-ray revealed no more than bad bruising and soft tissue damage. It ought not to stop him playing his part in Durham’s latest push for their first four-day win this season.