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Title in sight for Durham after stunning victory
DURHAM would have to do a Devon Loch not to win the LV County Championship after another astonishing victory at Derby.
Falling inexplicably in the home straight, as Dick Francis's mount did when well clear in the 1956 Grand National, seems unthinkable. But so did Derbyshire's second innings dismissal for 63.
Needing 37, Durham got home by nine wickets to earn a club record of nine wins in a season and surge 27.5 points clear with two games left.
A tenth win at home to Nottinghamshire this week would clinch the title and set another Durham record of five successive victories.
Just as at Scarborough two weeks previously, a draw looked certain going into the final day. But under the pressure which Durham patiently build opponents eventually weaken and once the crack appears Paul Collingwood's men go for the jugular.
Graham Onions was wicketless until the last ball of his seventh over but he then swept away Derbyshire with a spell of five for four in 41 balls.
He bowled 15 overs broken only by lunch and his figures of five for 23 took his tally of championship wickets to 60, four short of his total last season, when he topped the national averages.
Collingwood said: "Graham said at lunch he was struggling to control the swing. He's a world-class performer who is very honest and he said he was going to try and hit the stumps a lot more. So he went out early and re-aligned his run-up."
The result was devastating and Derbyshire simply couldn't cope.
Onions has taken 50 wickets for three successive years since his career-threatening back injury forced him to miss the 2010 season. He has since been almost ever-present in the England squad but has added only one Test to the eight he played before his operation.
"You have to push those disappointments to one side," he said. "It's trying to force my way into the England side and trying to win things that keeps me going.
"I learned a lot about myself when I was injured for such a long time.
"I learned about mental preparation and getting yourself ready for the tough games."
The selectors are said to fancy 6ft 7in bowlers like Steve Finn, Chris Tremlett and Boyd Rankin for this winter's Ashes series in Australia, and while Onions hopes to be on the plane winning the county championship would bring just as much satisfaction.
"It is hard to put into words what it would mean," he said after being absent from the teams which clinched both the 2008 and 2009 titles.
"The character the lads keep showing to put in performances and win us games is unbelievable."
This was Durham's first championship win at Derby, where they have suffered a few agonies such as the 2002 defeat by two runs, when Dominic Cork swept away the tail.
This win could also be seen as vengeance for last month's defeat on a sub-standard pitch which ended Durham's hopes of reaching the YB 40 semi-finals. But Derbyshire deserve some sympathy.
They are a poor side who have been forced to try to develop some young players while putting up an impressive fight for division one survival, which had always looked unlikely.
The fight continued until lunchtime, when they were only five runs behind with nine wickets standing. But the news that relegation rivals Somerset were on their way to victory could not have helped their resolve and 22 overs later they were all out.
Chris Rushworth had pinned young left-hander Ben Slater lbw with his first ball of the innings, but Derbyshire got to 26 for one before Rushworth had Paul Borrington caught at short leg.
Onions produced late movement to have Wayne Madsen caught at second slip by Scott Borthwick and the last chance of any resistance came when Onions unsettled Shiv Chanderpaul with a bouncer then almost knocked him off his feet with a full-length ball.
It was high quality bowling and with the cornerstone gone it was almost inevitable that the house would fall down.
A brilliant diving catch by Michael Richardson at gully saw off Richard Johnson and Rushworth took his eighth wicket of the match when he clean bowled Tom Poynton before making way for Usman Arshad to take the last two wickets.
Derbyshire's total was the second lowest against Durham in the championship behind the 56 made by Somerset at Riverside in 2003.
On a slow pitch and sluggish outfield both sides had scored runs at fewer than three an over as 14 wickets fell in the first 204 overs.
Then on Saturday morning Durham lost their last six in 13.3 as they tried to force the pace. They were all out for 325 and a lead of only
27 was not what they had in mind.
But then Derbyshire were blown away in 29.1 overs and although Mark Stoneman was adjudged lbw for seven the runs did at least take him to a first-class total of 1,001.
Keaton Jennings scored the winnings runs in making 18 not out and Scott Borthwick's ten not out left him needing 44 for 1,000 championship runs, while Stoneman needs 56.
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