THE SUN came out at Worcester yesterday just as Paul Collingwood strolled to the crease on his 39th birthday. The script could hardly have been bettered as he cruised to an unbeaten century and put his Durham side in sight of victory.

It fell short of perfection only because the umpires did not exercise the option to take an extra half hour, leaving Durham to score 48 today with seven wickets standing.

Collingwood, who closed on 111, and Michael Richardson (41) took no risks in the last few overs in reaching 270 for three.

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Victory will take Durham to the top of the table with four wins and two defeats. They have played a game more than all their rivals, but if they do pluck a win from the depths of a 220-run deficit when they were 103 for nine, it will prove the mettle of the team.

It also shows the benefit of being battle-hardened at this level as, not for the first time this season, Worcestershire were unable to sustain their effort.

While John Hastings gallantly battled on after an early mauling to take a career-best seven for 60, the hosts' lack of bowling depth was badly exposed.

Collingwood and Keaton Jennings found batting increasingly easy after coming together with the game in the balance on 66 for two in pursuit of 318, putting on 108 before Jennings was out for 61.

By that time Worcestershire were a spent force, especially Joe Leach after his 76 off 53 balls in the morning.

Collingwood's 21st first-class century for Durham took him level at the top of the pile with Dale Benkenstein. His parents were among a healthy contingent of fans who will reflect that the joy of a visit to Worcester is unlikely to be repeated next year.

The county have never stayed in division one for more than two successive seasons and the way they surrendered a position of absolute command bodes ill for their survival.

Their only hope is that Saeed Ajmal can have an impact when he arrives next week. Durham will be grateful they didn't have to face him, especially as his replacement, Sachithra Senanayake, posed no threat.

It certainly didn't look like being Durham's day in the first half hour. Cricket could scarcely offer a greater contrast after the fall of five wickets for ten runs the previous evening had left Worcestershire on 65 for six.

Leach and Ben Cox thrashed 72 off the first seven overs with things going badly wrong for Durham from the sixth ball.

Leach, on nought, gave the first of three difficult chances when he edged Chris Rushworth past Gordon Muchall 's left ear at the third slip.

Hastings, who began with figures of three for six from two overs, took none for 38 in his first three of the day before his dedication in keeping going for 10.3 overs was rewarded as he took the four remaining wickets.

In his first over Leach picked him up for six over the short leg-side boundary then edged another four between first and second slips.

On 22 he drove a straight six off Chris Rushworth and on 30 he survived another difficult chance to Jennings at deep backward point.

The stand was worth 75 when Hastings had Cox caught behind for 32, then Senanayake made 18 before he was very well caught by Mark Stoneman running back at deep mid-off.

Jack Shantry gave Richardson his seventh catch of the match behind the stumps and Leach was finally bowled by Hastings when stepping back to cut a ball which wasn't short enough.

Durham reached 20 in four overs to lunch and Stoneman continued to play fluently in making 37 in an opening stand of 53 before he edged a drive off Leach to the wicketkeeper.

But Leach soon began to looked jaded, which the hosts could ill afford as they have only three recognised seamers.

After his heroic century in the first innings, Scott Borthwick fell lbw to Shantry for four. But that merely opened the door for Collingwood to follow his birthday script.

He never looked in any trouble, while Jennings' only errors were in taking two risky singles. He would have been run out on 22 had the shy from cover found the target.

He cut most of his six fours in reaching 50 off 91 balls, while Collingwood reached the landmark off 58 deliveries.

When Senanayake came on at 101 for two, Collingwood drove him over extra cover for six and the Sri Lankan spinner generally performed like someone who is unlikely to add to his one Test cap.

A leg glance off Shantry for his 15th four took Collingwood to his hundred off 140 balls and he will be hugely disappointed if he doesn't complete the task today.