THE Colonel's time in command didn't last quite long enough for Durham yesterday.

Phil Mustard, the wicketkeeper nicknamed after the Cluedo character, kept the troops entertained in an effort to make up for lost time at Northampton and earned his third career-best score of the season.

His 80 off 86 balls was not enough, however, to put Durham in an impregnable position as Northants replied to the total of 334 with 98 for two.

In the battle of the Queenslanders, Ashley Noffke must have known it was going to be hard work to dismiss Martin Love after making 65 himself.

After the lively opening when play began at 3.30 on Wednesday, Durham's chances of forcing a sixth win receded as the pitch eased.

Love dropped Noffke at first slip on 59 off Jason Brown, but offered no chances of his own on the way to 49 not out, although he was beaten by good balls from Mark Turner and Neil Killeen and looked fortunate to survive an lbw appeal by Mark Davies on 32.

Turner was also out of luck when Bilal Shafayat edged him low to Gordon Muchall's left at second slip on four, but Killeen was the best of Durham's bowlers and deserved his wicket.

After an opening stand of 54 he nipped one in to have Shafayat lbw for 22, then Dale Benkenstein had Rob White well caught by Mustard, leaping to his right, before Usman Afzaal kept Love company at close.

In the Durham innings the top three contributed 13 and the bottom three, two, so they were indebted to hefty contributions from the middle order.

Mustard keeps edging his best score forward in ones and twos. It was 75 at the start of the season, then he made 77 against Lancashire and 78 against Yorkshire.

Having reached 50 off 59 balls yesterday, he then scorched into the 70s before throttling back as though determined to reach three figures. But a defensive forward push resulted in a catch to second slip, providing a very similar end to another innings of 80, by Dale Benkenstein.

The acting captain stretched his stand with Gareth Breese from 40 overnight to 110 after play began half an hour late.

Breese made exactly half of those and it was a disappointing end when he was lbw trying to sweep off-spinner Brown.

Both played extremely well. After resuming on 41, Benkenstein pulled Damien Wright first bounce over the rope at mid-wicket for his seventh four to complete his 50 off 121 balls.

A superbly-controlled hook for four followed, but there was still something in the pitch and he survived a big appeal for caught behind when a ball from Wright cut back and brushed Benkenstein before passing over the stumps. The appeal probably came more from the belief that the ball deserved a wicket.

On 69 Benkenstein went down the pitch to drive Brown over long-on for six, but Breese always kept pace.

A taller man than the 5ft 7in Shafayat, who got his fingers to it, would have caught Breese at mid-wicket on 37, and he went to his 50 off 110 balls with a four edged wide of the slips off Johann Louw.

But he followed up with a cracking cover drive, which made his exit all the more disappointing.

Benkenstein went in the next over and at 185 for six Durham were in danger of under-achieving. But neither Mustard nor Noffke had much trouble in settling in as they took the score to 215 at lunch.

Mustard was 24-7 ahead at that point, but Noffke had more of the strike on the resumption and passed his partner in the 30s after cashing in on some absolute tripe from South African Charl Pietersen.

The left-arm seamer, who announced himself with seven for ten in the C & G Trophy win in Denmark, continually bowled well wide of off stump, one ball heading in the direction of Wellingborough before umpire Jeff Evans stretched out his arms.

Northants have become known as "Kolpakshire" and if they are giving opportunities to second-rate South Africans ahead of local talent it's a very sad state of affairs.

Mustard swept ahead again by going down the pitch to smash Brown for a straight six then twice swept him for four either side of long leg in an over which cost 16.

The new ball was then taken, with 74 having come off 15 overs since lunch, and intially the runs continued to flow as Mustard cut and cover-drove Wright for fours then whipped Louw wristily over mid-wicket.

Once he departed the runs dried up and the last four wickets went down for 14 runs. Turner survived comfortably enough, but Davies had his stumps so spectacularly splattered by Louw that all three were flattened.

Noffke's 65 occupied 143 balls before he was bowled pushing down the wrong line at Brown, who then had Killeen lbw first ball.

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