AS if the cruel knockout blow from the ECB were not enough, everything else continues to conspire to keep Durham on the canvas.

After only two one-day games at Emirates Riverside during the whole of sun-drenched May, they returned to base yesterday and fell foul of the no-toss option after a morning's rain.

It was inevitable that Northamptonshire would choose to bowl under heavy cloud, and with further assistance from a tinge of green in the pitch they dismissed Durham for 166.

Wickets continued to tumble as the visitors slipped to 28 for three before Max Holden and ex-Derbyshire man Chesney Hughes took them to 59 for three when bad light ended play.

After the ECB's fixture compiler had starved them of action since April, it was painful to watch for Durham fans, whose quiet grievances were in stark conrast to the boisterous celebrations of a group of around 20 young males who formed a surprising Northants fan club.

Despite an opening stand of 30, the going was always tough and only Michael Richardson, batting at six on his return from injury, got past 20.

It seemed someone might be smiling on Durham when Stephen Cook padded up to a straight one from Ben Sanderson and was given not out. But two of the three lbw decisions which were given were highly questionable.

Six fell to edged catches with varying degrees of culpability, although Northants' quartet of seamers deserved credit for their accuracy.

There was a career-best six for 34 for Nathan Buck, who at 26 might finally fulfil his undoubted potential after failing to do so with Leicestershire and Lancashire. With 27 wickets, he has the joint second highest tally in division two this season behind Kent's Darren Stevens.

Most of the early runs came off the edge, but Cook dug in steadfastly until he pushed forward wide of off stump and edged Rory Kleinveldt to second slip.

Keaton Jennings was on six in the tenth over when he edged a cut off Sanderson over the slips before adding two more authentic boundaries as the sun briefly emerged.

It offered a rare ray of hope as on 20 he fell to Buck's seventh ball, which lifted and left him to take the edge and offer a simple catch to wicketkeeper Adam Rossington.

With the help of an edge through third slip's hands, Graham Clark also made 20 before shaping to play a yorker-length ball from Buck to leg. Unless it swung very late it had to be missing leg stump, but he was adjudged lbw.

Paul Collingwood was immediately off the mark with a pull which oozed confidence after his century and 92 not out at Swansea. But when he tried to follow up with a straight drive off Buck he edged to first slip.

Sanderson returned to have Cameron Steel caught behind after battling for 48 balls to make 20, then Azharrullah had Ryan Pringle lbw, the batsman's grievance suggesting an inside edge.

A break for bad light shortly after tea brought relief which was all too brief as the resumption prompted some careless driving. Richardson edged Buck's out-swinger to Rossington and Paul Coughlin's expansive drive at Kleinveldt saw the ball fly to fourth slip.

Buck wrapped it up when steep bounce did for Barry McCarthy and Gavin Main was lbw after hitting three nice fours in scoring his first runs at this level.

Coughlin produced the fastest bowling of the day and Rob Newton's edge flew to Collingwood at first slip in the third over of the reply.

Alex Wakeley and Rob Keogh were both strangled down the leg side off McCarthy, although Keogh's was more of an authentic glance, brilliantly pouched by the diving Stuart Poynter.

There was no more success as Hughes, in his first championship appearance for his new county, made a confident start. Durham will need to see him off quickly this morning.