Worcestershire stay up as Durham title hopes end
LV County Championship Division One, Chester-le-Street
Close, day three: Durham 264 & 388, Worcs 288 & 65-2
Durham 5pts, Worcs 5pts
Worcestershire secured their place in Division One next season within minutes of Durham discovering that their slim title hopes had been ended.
But, while Worcestershire have stayed up for the first time since first reaching Division One in 2003, they look in danger of losing this game.
Mark Stoneman (75), Dale Benkenstein (63), Ian Blackwell (59) and Michael di Venuto (55) all hit half centuries.
And, after Durham totalled 388, Worcs ended on 65-2, needing 300 more to win.
The two outcomes possible for either side from this game were decided by two moments close together in late afternoon.
At 1635 BST, the dismissal of Hampshire's Danny Briggs, run out against Warwickshire at The Rose Bowl, meant an extra bowling bonus point for the Bears, thereby ensuring that they would finish above Durham.
WORCESTERSHIRE - THEIR ROLLERCOASTER RIDE IN THE TOP FLIGHT
- 2003 promoted, 2004 relegated
- 2006 promoted, 2007 relegated
- 2008 promoted, 2009 relegated
- 2010 promoted, 2011 stayed up
Then, just four minutes later, at 1639 BST, Hampshire last man James Tomlinson was out too - and their failure to get maximum batting bonus points ensured that they would finish beneath Worcestershire, thereby keeping Steve Rhodes' men up.
Benkenstein went past 1300 Championship runs for the campaign to hit his ninth 50 of the season before becoming one of four victims for Gareth Andrew.
Alan Richardson had the same figures as in the first innings, 3-46, to finish with 73 wickets for the season - and cement his place as the top flight's top wicket taker this season.
Graham Onions then took the two key Worcestershire wickets to fall after his wayward start had allowed the visitors to race to 50 in the seventh over.
Skipper Daryl Mitchell had made 35 off only 24 balls when Onions skidded one through to bowl him and he then had first innings century-maker Vikram Solanki caught behind for a duck.
CLOSE OF PLAY SUMMARIES
Durham batsman Dale Benkenstein:
"It's been nice from my point of view to come back and have a good season after last year. We have had a good season. I have contributed like I wanted to contribute.
"About a month ago we felt we were in with a good chance of winning the title. But, over six months, it is about consistency.
"As results have shown, we have beaten both of the sides above us twice, but there have also been periods where we have let ourselves down and that has cost us."
BBC Hereford and Worcester's Trevor Owens:
"This was a very strange day of cricket to cover as the main event was taking place at the other end of the country, with Worcestershire looking to old rivals Warwickshire to do them a favour against Hampshire.
"With Worcestershire safe from relegation, they then played with some degree of freedom, as Daryl Mitchell did at the start of their second innings.
"But there was a genuine sense of whatever happens on the final day the real victory has already been achieved, especially after losing their first six matches- a fantastic achievement."
BBC Newcastle's Martin Emmerson:
"Durham's blip at the start of the second half of the season has cost them dearly.
"Bad weather and bad form saw them win only one out of six and that allowed Warwickshire and Lancashire back in the hunt.
"There's still a game on here, though, and Durham will want to make sure they do their bit to win it on the final day and I think most would back the home team."