Worcestershire v Durham: Promoted leaders seek victory for Division Two title
|Specsavers County Championship Division Two, New Road (day three):|
|Worcestershire 335 & 157-3: Mitchell 68*, Fell 47|
|Durham 208: Clark 60, Richardson 45*; Leach 3-30|
|Worcestershire lead Durham by 284 runs with 7 wickets remaining|
|Worcestershire 6 pts, Durham 4 pts|
Worcestershire are still in line to lift the County Championship Division Two title after sealing promotion back to Division One at New Road for the sixth time in 15 seasons.
The Pears' success was secured when Northants only picked up one batting point after being bowled out for 202 in their game against Leicestershire.
Meanwhile, Worcestershire were bowling Durham out for 208.
Ex-captain Daryl Mitchell then made 68 not out as the hosts closed on 157-3.
With George Rhodes still there on 21, having so far helped to put on 26 for the fourth wicket following Tom Fell's highest score of the summer (47), Worcestershire have a 284-run overnight lead.
They will start the final day of the 2017 domestic season with Mitchell 32 short of a seventh ton of the summer, but mindful that they will need enough time to bowl out Durham.
Victory would seal a second Division Two title triumph for the Pears to match the achievement of the county's first promotion-winning team in 2003, which contained Steve Rhodes, now their director of cricket.
But, if Rhodes' men fail to force victory, that could still allow second-placed Notts to finish top, if they beat Sussex at Hove.
Promotion time again for the Pears
Worcestershire were last in Division One in 2015 - but were relegated, coincidentally against Durham, finishing bottom after recording only three victories.
This time round, Rhodes won his fifth promotion as boss when his side claimed the final five wickets to wrap up the maximum of six points required before the game.
But promotion was actually sealed 70 miles away at Grace Road in Leicester just 12 minutes after play got under way on Wednesday when their other promotion rivals, third-placed Northants, quickly lost their last two wickets.
Of Worcestershire's five successful promotion campaigns, only once - in 2011 - have they avoided making an instant return to the second tier.
But this achievement perhaps ranks as their most satisfying, as 10 of the side in action against Durham are academy products - and they will also be swapping places with their great Midlands rivals, relegated Warwickshire.
Worcestershire captain Joe Leach told BBC Hereford & Worcester:
"I'm very happy at the moment but it's a bit of a weird feeling. Tomorrow we want to come and win the game and make sure we are crowned champions. That is important to us all.
"We are really pleased to be going up but we want to do it in style and sign off with a win.
"Eight wins so far speaks for itself and, if we do finish the job, then we probably deserve to go up as champions."
Worcestershire director of cricket Steve Rhodes told BBC Hereford & Worcester:
"It is a lovely feeling but it is quite strange because we are still in mid-game and generally in the past when we've been promoted it's been at the end of the match and finding out results elsewhere.
"We are delighted but we've got one day to go in the season now and it will really cap it off if we can win this game and finish as champions.
"I think that means so much to the boys. We are very proud to go up but we'd love to go up and say 'we were champions.'"
Durham head coach Jon Lewis told BBC Radio Newcastle:
"We really haven't maintained a standard of cricket with bat or ball or in the field throughout the whole game. We haven't won a session.
"The advantage for us is with time having gone out of the game, you are looking basically at three-day cricket and, with three-day cricket, if you win the last day, you win the game.
"That's the situation we are in now. The game is mainly in Worcestershire's hands at the moment. We will try and knock a few wickets over early on and keep the chase down to as little as we can."