In a parallel galaxy far, far away, Middlesex were in jubilations at the close of the third day at Lord’s, having enforced the follow-on and further exerted their control on proceedings. But here, in this version, they were left to rue the decision to not make Durham bat again, seeing their lead of 169 after the first innings become a 258-run target.
With Tim Murtagh off the field through a hamstring strain picked up on the second day – a scan tomorrow will show the full extent of the injury – and Steven Finn and James Harris tiring, captain Adam Voges was encouraged to give his pace attack some respite, having dismissed Durham after lunch. But by the time they had popped into an ice bath they were called to bat, as forty minutes were all Paul Collingwood’s team required to strike back and rip through Middlesex’s recognised batsmen.
The top order alliance, that had scored so many runs over the past two weeks against Nottinghamshire and Somerset, provided muted opposition to the destructive force of Chris Rushworth and John Hastings. As a thicker cloud cover developed the fast bowlers began to find more assistance from the pitch, the ball zipping off the surface with purpose.
While there’s no proof of Durham using Jedi mind tricks to bend Middlesex’s will to their own way, the manner and swiftness in which they dismantled their lineup understandably had some asking questions.
Nick Gubbins offered only pad to Rushworth three overs into the innings and was accordingly given lbw, Voges falling by the same method in Rushworth’s next over. Two balls earlier, he had Nick Compton dismissed at gully, Calum MacLeod impressing for the photographers, diving high to his left to take a sharp catch.
Robson became Rushworth’s fourth victim, before Hastings got in on the action, picking up four of his own. Teetering on 50 runs, Middlesex then lost James Harris to Rushworth, who brought up his fifth five-for in nine innings. Hastings completed an enthralling Durham comeback when he had Finn lbw – although if Middlesex are to somehow haul themselves over the winners line, much is owed to his last-wicket 39-run stand with the hobbling Murtagh.
At a time of disarray within the national squad, this was an opportune demonstration by Rushworth, whose accurate lines and lengths on English pitches will likely see him added to the selection discussion ahead of a busy 10 month period for England in which they play 15 Test matches.
The Durham seamer said: “I’m just feeling confident [right now]. When you’re taking wickets and bowling well you get in a rhythm and confidence is a big thing. I just try and hit the stumps and make the batsmen play and let the wicket do the rest.
“It looked a pretty good wicket this morning. I know the ball was a little bit older, but we weren’t expecting to go out again, we thought we’d follow-on.
“That new ball tomorrow will be key. It’ll be a good challenge for the lads to see off that new ball and get them into the second and spell thirds and hopefully it’ll become easier for us.”
Rushworth had already earned his crust in the morning session putting on 40 important runs, including a straight six over long-off off Ollie Rayne, in tandem with Keaton Jennings in a 73-run partnership to move Durham closer to the follow-on target. Wickets dried up after the overnight pair departed – Jennings falling two short of his century to Voges, who deployed himself in an attempt to force the situation.
The plan worked again, with Phil Mustard going this time, and the final three wickets spent vital time with Collingwood, who made 38.
No one expected to see them back out for a second innings of the day, But after removing Middlesex cheaply, they too started badly. Harris prevented Jennings reduce the chase, when he slapped one to midwicket. And the bowler finished a decent personal day moving the ball away from Mark Stoneman for Voges to snaffle at first slip, leaving them a competitive 248 behind.