SOMETIMES the determination can only be one or two percent down and it makes all the difference,” said coach Geoff Cook in the build-up to Durham’s game with Worcestershire.
He was talking about how his side put themselves back in the title picture at Hove, but his words proved prescient yesterday.
On Monday morning, Durham knew only victory would give them a sniff of winning the title they were so disappointed not to properly compete for 12 months ago.
Keen to head off the threat of Twenty20 cricket by heaping yet more spice into a two-division structure which has created plenty of final-week dramas, the ECB have greatly beefed up the prize money for a top-four finish in the County Championship in recent years. A large chunk goes straight into the players’ pockets.
Finish second, as opposed to third, where Durham started the game, and you double your money.
You would not have known it at a subdued Chester-le-Street yesterday afternoon.
It was not just the absence of Hurricane Katia which took the attritional feel away. There was no spark, no energy, no obvious passion in the field as Durham searched for badly-needed bonus points.
After tea, that 2% was back. With interest. Two brilliant catches sparked it, from Dale Benkenstein and Will Smith as Paul Collingwood bowled the first over after the break. A new ball offering bounce not previously seen in this match continued it, and Worcestershire – needing 300 to secure their place in next season’s Division One, were bowled out for 288.
Having been cruising with Vikram Solanki and Alexei Kervezee at the crease, they lost seven wickets for 33 runs.
Benkenstein is a naturally inspirational cricketer, and the 37-year-old’s plunge at midwicket had just that effect. His occasional bowling had earned Durham a much-needed first bowling bonus point, strangling Moeen Ali down legside, and his catch sent jitters through a Worcestershire dressing room loaded with spirit this season but, as the league table attests, not so much quality.
The sixth delivery with the new ball was a beauty Gareth Andrew did well to avoid as it lifted and left him from Graham Onions. He and Thorp were suitably inspired.
Solanki remains one of the most watchable batsmen on the county circuit, as he had been demonstrating all day. Forty-four of his first 50 runs came in boundaries, including some elegant cover drives and cuts.
James Cameron supported him well until paddling into his stumps off Ian Blackwell for 70.
But with 124 to his name, Solanki could only fend Thorp to slip. Andrew offered catching practice to the cordon, Richard Jones was trapped on the back foot, Ben Scott caught behind driving and Kemar Roach nibbled at Onions.
The new ball claimed five for five, with extra bounce prevalent in four of the dismissals. Thorp finished with 4-52.
Trailing by just 24 when far more looked in the offing and due to unleash their spinners last onto a pitch dried by the gusting wind and very deliberately shaved at either end, the opportunity is there for a Durham victory. Whether that will be enough, remains to be seen.
Maximum bowling points for Warwickshire at the Rose Bowl will end Durham’s title chances, although Hampshire’s top order have been in formidable form there recently.
If Dominic Cork’s side drop any points in the next 48 hours they, not Worcestershire, will be relegated.
Four Lancashire batting points will also count the Riversiders out of the race if the Red Rose avoid defeat.
Smith and Michael Di Venuto made a good start, adding 51 before the close, though for the second time in the match they found it hard going.
Roles were reversed as this time the Tasmanian struggled to get the ball off the square. He had the misfortune of batting at the Finchale End for much of his innings, meaning he had to face a miserly Alan Richardson.
With 70 Championship wickets, the 36-year-old journeyman is having an Indian summer and yesterday he bowled 6.4 overs before conceding a run. Even that squirmed off Smith’s edge. His nick off Kemar Roach on 22 was less controlled, just evading first slip.
While Smith had cut the first ball of the innings for four, Di Venuto was stuck on nought for 31 deliveries before playing between gully and point.
Smith needs another 30 to pass 1,000 Championship runs for the season – a mark he has got close to twice. Incentives will not be hard for Durham to find over the next two days. That “one or two percent” ought not to be either.