SOUTH African-born duo Keaton Jennings and Michael Richardson sparked a fantastic Durham fightback to rescue their hopes of finishing the season on a high note.
The County champions looked in a bit of trouble shortly after lunch yesterday when they were reduced to 120-6, still 44 runs short of making Sussex bat again.
However, Jennings and Richardson shared a 218-run partnership – a record seventh-wicket stand for Durham against Sussex – as they shared the crease for 56 overs.
That saw the visitors on 380-7 at stumps on day three – a lead of 216 over the home side going into the last day of the season today.
Richardson, who lodged a career-best 129 before falling shortly before the close, admitted that a big score was far from his mind as he walked out to the middle, having gone for a third-ball duck in the first innings.
“I was obviously quite nervous starting on a pair,” he said. “I was just thinking ‘get off the mark’, and go from there.
“It kind of happened in small stages, and then, all of a sudden, it sort of felt that the momentum had shifted our way.”
Richardson was key to that change in momentum as hit 16 fours and three sixes in an innings which spanned 178 deliveries.
And opener Jennings, who batted throughout the day as others perished to remain unbeaten on 113, was quick to praise his partner.
“Richo and myself managed to hang in there through those tough periods, and kicked on to what I’ve been told was a record partnership for Durham against Sussex,” he said.
“It was awesome to bat with Richo – he played his game and took the pressure off me.
“That partnership was something special, and the way Richo batted was fantastic.
“We were down in the dirt at one point, but we managed to fightback, and hopefully we can put some more runs on the board and put the pressure back on them.”
Before the partnership, Durham had lost five wickets during the morning session, three of them to the impressive Chris Jordan, who got a surprising amount bounce and carry out of a pitch which has lost its venom of the first two days.
First to go was Mark Stoneman, who mistimed a pull and was caught at mid-off in the second over of the day.
Scott Borthwick followed in the very next over, trapped lbw to a Steve Magoffin delivery which kept low.
And the visitors were reduced to 35-3 when Luke Wright came into the attack to end Will Smith’s final innings for the county – the batsman’s contract is not being renewed – as he was caught in the gully.
Ben Stokes counter-attacked impressively with 45 off 40 balls, although he was badly dropped at fine leg by Magoffin off a top-edge on 24.
Twice he deposited James Anyon into adjoining gardens and hit seven fours, but Jordan returned to the attack and promptly sent Stokes’s stumps flying.
Paul Collingwood was caught at gully and Durham were six down just after lunch when Jordan superbly caught Phil Mustard at slip, high above his head off Anyon.
It was to be Sussex’s last success for more than three hours as Jennings and Richardson rebuilt the innings. Sussex were hampered by the absence of their front-line spinner Ashar Zaidi, who was off the field after breaking a finger batting on the second day, and, as the seamers tired, Durham were able to start building a decent lead.
Sussex took the new ball immediately as it became available and Anyon eventually broke through to claim his 50th Championship wicket of the season when Richardson’s weary pull lobbed up to mid-on.
Speaking of the dismissal, the Durham star said: “The pull short brought me a lot of runs yesterday, but the one I got out to was quite a tried shot. It was there to hit, I just didn’t execute it right.”
It was revenge of sorts for the bowler who had twice been hit out of the ground by Richardson, who struck a third six off Chris Nash.
But the wayward Anyon was soon suffering again when Usman Arshad struck four boundaries off the penultimate over of the day to push Durham’s lead beyond 200.
Despite Durham having fought back, Richardson knows that the job is far from done and insists that the visitors will still have a battle on their hands.
He added: “Whatever score we get, I think they will go for it. (Ed) Joyce and Wright won’t hang around, so it could be quite an exciting finish.”