Luke Fletcher suffered the heartbreak of narrowly missing out on a maiden first class century as Nottinghamshire inched closer towards their second victory in the Specsavers County Championship.
Fletcher made 92 before being run out after slipping over, as Notts reached 305 all out on the second day of their match against Durham at Chester-le-Street.
The big fast bowler equalled his career best score and put on 108 for the eighth wicket with James Pattinson, who made 59.
Trailing by 143 on first innings, Durham lost two wickets before recovering to reach the close on 162 for five, a lead of only 19. Keaton Jennings remains the biggest threat to the visitors, ending the day unbeaten on 62.
For local lad Fletcher, a first century remains a dream but he had declared his intentions well in advance. Earlier, over breakfast at the team hotel he had announced that today was going to be his day.
“I said it, yes,” he admitted. “But at that stage I was only messing about. My job was to get through last night and then kick on this morning, so I suppose to get 92 was brilliant. But to get so close to a hundred – and get out eight short, like I did at Hampshire eight years ago – is slightly gutting but it has put us in a decent position really.”
Fletcher had reached his half century by lunch but said that thoughts of a three figure score hadn’t entered his head at that stage. “I wasn’t thinking about it because we were seven wickets down but as my partnership with James (Pattinson) developed the closer I got.
“Then I just slipped. You can’t really write it, how it happened. It’s disappointing though because if I hadn’t dropped my bat I think I’d have got home.”
The second day began with Notts resuming on 96 for four, a deficit of 66 on Durham’s first innings’ 162. Samit Patel was alongside Fletcher at the crease but the pair were parted as early as the seventh delivery of the day.
Patel added two runs to move to 45 but then nicked Chris Rushworth to first slip, where Paul Collingwood gathered. The umpires conferred to make sure that the ball had carried before sending the Nottinghamshire man on his way.
Fletcher, unbeaten on three at the end of the first day, stroked a couple of pleasing boundaries through the off side before losing his next partner.
Riki Wessels, who averages over 50 against Durham, made just eight this time and perished to Mark Wood’s second ball from the Lumley End.
The England quick thudded a ball into Wessels’ pads and found umpire Alex Wharf upholding his lbw appeal.
Chris Read drove his first ball straight past Wood for a boundary and looked to be in good touch until edging Paul Coughlin onto his stumps for 17.
Pattinson joined Fletcher in the lead-in to lunch and his first runs, a boundary down to third man, took Notts into the overall lead in the match.
The Australian’s arrival at the crease seemed to confuse the scoreboard operator and his runs for a while were added to his partner’s tally.
Twice, the crowd applauded Fletcher’s fifty, when he was still a handful of runs short but he then got there having faced 90 balls, with five fours.
During the early part of the afternoon Pattinson clipped Rushworth through midwicket for the four that brought up the 200 and shortly afterwards his partner clipped Wood away fine to bring up the 50 stand.
Against a tiring attack the strike-rate accelerated, with both batsmen finding the ropes with great frequency.
The prospects of a Fletcher hundred intensified, especially after he moved from 78 to 90 with three boundaries in one Pringle over.
Two more runs took the 28-year old to 92 but then the end came in dramatic – and desperately cruel circumstances.
For the first time in the innings Collingwood entered the attack. His first ball saw Pattinson chop to gully. Fletcher backed up a long way – anticipating a single – but Jennings flung himself a long way to his left to make the stop. A cry of wait saw Fletcher halted in his tracks and as he turned he slipped over, losing his bat also.
Gaining his feet, the bat-less nightwatchman tried to make his ground but couldn’t beat the throw as Collingwood – almost reluctantly – removed a bail.
A desperately dejected journey back to the dressing room was accompanied by a rousing reception from the crowd for one of county cricket’s most popular players.
Pattinson brought up his 50 from 84 balls, with his eighth boundary but fell on 59 as a top-edge from Onions landed in the ‘keepers gloves.
Harry Gurney was bowled for nought by Rushworth, who finished with four for 54, leaving Jake Ball unbeaten on 21.
Ball was immediately back in the action and made a telling early strike. Stephen Cook, who made only two in the first innings, completed a miserable match by edging to Wessels at first slip before a run had been scored.
The home county were then dealt a further blow as Ball struck in his next over also, having Jack Burnham caught behind for four. From eight for two Durham lifted their score to 24 before the bowlers had their next success.
Fletcher’s day turned favourably once again as Michael Richardson was given out for eight. Jennings and Collingwood combined in a stand of 71 but it wasn’t without alarms, particularly when Pattinson re-entered the attack.
Collingwood was spared from a hugely confident lbw appeal but then fell to the Australian, thanks to a stunning one-handed catch from Wessels.
The Durham captain, who fell for 40, slashed outside his off stump and was unlucky to see his top-edge spectacularly taken by the leap from first slip.
Coughlin played a stylish innings, making 38 out of 52 put on with Jennings but he was undone by Pattinson’s speed and became the second lbw victim of the innings.
With half the wickets already taken and the home side only 19 ahead, Nottinghamshire will be pushing hard for the victory when play resumes on the third morning.