Cook aims to stay in title race

Lv County Championship

Durham dare hardly hope for the 20 wickets they need on an unusually flat Riverside pitch to force victory against Sussex - and are intent first on making sure of maximum bonus points.

Head coach Geoff Cook knows his team, still in the mix for a shot at a maiden LV County Championship title, cannot afford to let even one point escape - with only six days left of the Division One season.

After Shivnarine Chanderpaul (130 not out) had yesterday at last lived up to his billing as the world’s number one batsman with his first Durham hundred - dominating an unbroken 182-run stand with Gareth Breese (63no) - cricket’s newest county were on course for maximum batting points against champions Sussex.

But following a washout on day one - while title rivals were making stealthy progress elsewhere - the Chester-le-Street surface offered little for the bowlers, thanks to the strenuous efforts of groundstaff to rid as much moisture as possible.

Geoff Cook

Head coach Geoff Cook hopes Durham can add the championship title to last year's Friends Provident Trophy triumph

Happy with his team’s 325 for four, Cook is therefore banking on a big performance from Steve Harmison - and perhaps some Sussex frailty - as the best chance of an unlikely victory.

“With one day missing out of the game, a lot of people might say there is a lot of ‘air’ taken out of this contest,” he said.

“But there hasn’t. A good draw, or if they play badly and we bowl pretty well, you never know what could happen.

“It’s going to be difficult. But if you get the right people out at the right time, we have probably the most aggressive bowler in England who helped bowl them out down at Sussex on a similar wicket.

“That will be in their minds, so I’d rather be in our position than theirs.”

Explaining the nature of a pitch which has often previously favoured the bowlers, he said: “The whole ground has been absolutely flooded - and in order for the game to go on at all, we had to take some fairly drastic measures to try to take the moisture out of the wicket.

“That has been the result. The groundsman had to take a lot of grass off, and it’s resulted in that surface.

“But this cricket is better than no cricket at all.”

Cook also spared a word for Breese, making his first championship appearance in more than a year and coming up with a hugely valuable supportive innings.

“Gareth’s a fantastic professional who’s played a key part in Durham’s one-day matches,” he added.

“He took his removal from the four-day team halfway through last season very well - he deserved his chance.”