A career-best 135 from Scott Borthwick saw Durham reach a commanding 309-5 at stumps on day one of their Division One clash against Surrey at Chester-le-Street.
The 23-year-old's resilient performance defied the best efforts of Chris Tremlett, who returned to the Surrey line-up having been left out of England's Test side.
With South Africa's Hashim Amla making his debut, struggling Surrey inserted Durham before Tremlett struck in the second over of the day on his way to claiming all five of the hosts' wickets.
Following his omission from the England side facing Australia at the Oval, Tremlett featured in short spells until he took three wickets in seven overs before returning to complete figures of 5-51 from 22 overs.
The early dismissal of Mark Stoneman for just eight brought Borthwick to the crease to face only the 12th ball of the match.
The leg-spinning all-rounder lasted until five overs before close when he was trapped lbw, trying to turn Tremlett through midwicket.
Will Smith hit 15 fours on his way to 87 as he and Borthwick forged a partnership of 183 for the third wicket.
Borthwick's knock, which combined maturity and patience with high-class stroke-play, lasted 199 balls with 16 boundaries on the way as the England international notched up his third century of the season.
Returning to the side following his suspension, Gareth Batty's decision to field looked to have been vindicated when Stoneman pushed forward to Tremlett's fifth ball and edged to wicketkeeper Steve Davies.
Durham were 23 for one after 11 overs, but Keaton Jennings and Borthwick steadied the ship with the former adept at working the ball behind square as he amassed 35 before being caught by Zander de Bruyn at second slip.
The hosts will resume on day two with captain Paul Collingwood unbeaten on 17 and Jamie Harrison, one not out, at the crease.