Durham are denied by County’s stubborn last-wicket defiance

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Northamptonshire, by the skin of their teeth, have opened their Division One LV= County Championship season with a positive number in the draw column rather than its loss cousin.

They made damn hard work of it, surviving the last nine overs with just a single wicket intact and will now travel north to Headingley this weekend in spirited mood.

Durham's Usman Arshad is congratulated after taking the wicket of James Middlebrook

Durham's Usman Arshad is congratulated after taking the wicket of James Middlebrook

An ask of 319 from 69 overs was never going to be seriously tested and the Durham attack stuck to their task admirably on a surface that remained good but they will be left wondering whether their caution in the morning was quite so necessary.

Resuming with a lead of 252 and with five wickets in hand, the force was in the visitors’ hands as to when they allowed the fourth innings to commence and the way they went about it was neither here nor there.

In fact, it was almost as if they had decided prior to the day’s play starting that they were going to set a target of so many in so many overs and not push for anything different.

That meant 90 minutes of cricket that provided the equivalent of just playing out time with no urgency or scruff of the neck grabbing.

Once Michael Richardson had fallen early as he chopped a cut off Maurice Chambers onto his stumps, the rest of the innings meandered along with wickets falling regularly, Andrew Hall the chief beneficiary.

As an aside, there was fifth wicket for James Middlebrook - Usman Arshad stumped having a swing - which was a decent achievement given that he barely bowled a ball before June last year.

Chris Rushworth’s dismissal concluded Durham’s second stint at 244 which set a target of 319 in a minimum of 69 overs, not an impossible task, but far from straightforward.

The opening half a dozen overs before the lunch break provided an encouraging initial response but such run chases need substance to be grafted to the style and the afternoon session served up too little of both.

Stephen Peters was the first to go as he was caught at the wicket off Rushworth, he was followed shortly afterwards as Graeme Onions skidded one through Kyle Coetzer’s defences and Matthew Spriegel couldn’t back up his first innings performance - isn’t it always the case? - as Onions rattled his stumps for a six-ball duck.

Middlebrook, who had been given a reprieve on 15 when Phil Mustard floored a regulation chance to his right off Onions, was holding fort at the other end comfortably enough but with a half century in sight, he squirted a drive off Arshad to point where Gareth Breese took a smart catch to his left.

That put an end to any realistic thoughts of victory, if they had existed at all, but these were extinguished for good when, with the final ball before tea, Rushworth hit Hall in front.

So with two hours to bat for a share of the points available for a draw, what was needed was some good, honest, heads down pragmatism.

But while playing as a batsman, David Willey hasn’t yet adopted the attitude of a batsman and his dismissal, caught at slip off the persevering Onions following some verbal sparring with the opposition, was naive at best.

Steven Crook made it to the beginning of the last hour before Jamie Harrison removed his off stump from its standing to create a nervy final few overs but with Rob Newton, who would eventually use up 137 balls for his excellent unbeaten 48, keeping a sensible leash on his his usual method, there was still a chance of escape.

Those odds were lengthened by a distance as Scott Borthwick’s return at the Abington Avenue end paid immediate dividends when David Murphy steered him straight to Keaton Jennings at short leg and Maurice Chambers had his off stump bent back by the next delivery.

So after four days it came down to 54 deliveries and a single wicket but the former expired before the latter could be taken - Muhammad Azharullah facing 25 balls - and the protagonists left with 11 points apiece.

On the overall balance, it doesn’t seem quite right, yet I doubt the home side will give a monkey’s.