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Mustard's men are closing in on vital victory

WHEN the mist rolled in off the south coast shortly before tea it was the first time Durham had been under fret all day.

WHEN the mist rolled in off the south coast shortly before tea it was the first time Durham had been under fret all day.

Weather permitting, a first County Championship victory since June ought to be a matter of time today, even if the title-race outsiders did threaten to handicap themselves by over-indulging with the bat yesterday afternoon.

Barring a worrying elbow injury to Michael Di Venuto, more or less everything has gone to plan for Durham since they embarked on their mini-tour of the south, which ends in Somerset tomorrow.

They were even able to complete a final session in poor visibility.

It would have served Durham right had they been forced off for bad light because they batted too long in a very comfortable second innings.

With away semi-finals in the CB40 competition tomorrow, both sides would love to get a flier but instead the visitors ground down their hosts, building a lead of 520 without ever looking to put their foot down.

If that is not way past unassailable for a team of their talents, Durham do not deserve to be in contention for the pennant they lost possession of two years ago.

The last four wickets went down for 69 unnecessary runs as they wasted time.

It was not that Durham did not play any shots – they hit six sixes and lost Paul Collingwood looking for another.

Mitchell Claydon even took the long route, cutting his second maximum to the distant eastern side of the ground.

Waking up in such a dominant position, they were content to wait for the bad deliveries.

Will Smith helped himself to a third century of the season, testament to his fighting qualities. Having lost the captaincy and his place in the side in May 2010, it seemed Smith’s days at Chester-le-Street could come to an end this winter.

Instead, he saw out the final year of his contract and forced his way back into the line-up.

The conversion rate is impressive, but three 50s and as many hundreds in this season’s Championship do not tell the full story. There have been a number of gritty knocks, such as the second innings at Liverpool, worth more than they earned in runs.

He is Durham’s second-highest run-getter in four-day cricket this year, 29 ahead of fellow opener Di Venuto who did not make it on to the field all day.

His predecessor as captain Dale Benkenstein said: “He has been unbelievable considering everything he has been through.

“I have huge respect for what he has done.

“He has got back to where he was and he is a great guy to have in the team.”

Two early-morning cuts were the highlight of Smith’s knock, ended when he became the second of three Durham batsmen lbw trying to sweep a spinner, as Murray Goodwin would later. Phil Mustard played on with the shot.

Having twice hooked sixes, Collingwood was caught on the boundary trying to repeat his third, over long-on to Monty Panesar.

Benkenstein dropped anchor while Ian Blackwell did what he does best, moving the game along.

He was dropped by Matt Prior on one and more badly by Panesar on the third man boundary on 16 before being stumped when beaten by the turn of Chris Nash.

Callum Thorp was also dropped by Prior second ball. The game was meandering, as Championship cricket does from time to time.

Once Durham declared at tea it could get going again.

Although six of their seven wickets fell to spin, the uneven bounce Thorp and Graham Onions found brought early breakthroughs.

Nash and Luke Wells were both lbw to daisy-cutters.

Prior’s extravagant upper-cut four underlined why Durham erred on the side of caution, but once Ed Joyce was brilliantly caught on the midwicket boundary the die seemed cast.

Prior was fortunate to survive Mustard’s juggling act four balls before the close, but may not have so much luck finding a reliable batting partner.

Benkenstein added: “We have got back on track, hopefully just in time.”

 

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