Cricket: Benson stands out as stand-in

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Leicestershire 249

Durham 204

Leicestershire win by 45 runs

A GOOD many spectators have made the transition from short trousers to middle age since the last packed house graced Grace Road, and Leicestershire not only had to overcome Durham here yesterday, but the rare experience of playing in front of people.

This they did, by the comfortable margin of 45 runs, and the side that has sneaked almost unnoticed into second place in the Championship is now into the last four of the 60-over NatWest competition for only the third time in its 30-year history.

There are still some things that are beyond them, such as making the final, and the preparation of a quick pitch. This one was meant to be made to measure for their in- form fast bowler David Millns, but it turned out to be (typical of Grace Road) 22 yards of Plasticine - just right for dibbly-dobbers such as Justin Benson.

By happy accident, Leicestershire got it right. Not so happy for Millns, perhaps, who missed the game with a foot injury, and a projected absence of at least two weeks rules him out of the Oval Test squad that he had a very real chance of making. Fast bowlers only have to get a mention for England this season, and their next sighting is a horizontal one on a physiotherapist's couch.

However, when Millns dropped out the evening before the match, Benson was summoned from a second team game in Cardiff, and took two for 24 and a sharp slip catch to go with the 42 runs he made earlier at a time when Leicestershire looked like falling well short of the 249 they made after being put in.

By the time Benson was out Leicestershire were back on course for around 275, but at that point their innings disintegrated in the kind of custard-pie farce that the slog overs in these matches invariably provide. The last six wickets went down in five overs for 45 runs, four of them run-outs.

These were no ordinary run- outs. However, while Durham suffered only two run-outs in their own innings, they turned out to be far more crucial.

Wayne Larkins and John Glendenen got Durham away to a solid start, if not an express one, and when Larkins and Geoff Cook were together at 99 for 1 halfway through the innings, Durham's old stagers doubtless had visions of cracking open the champagne - or in their case, the Sanatogen wine.

Cook is Durham's 40-year-old director of cricket, and was out there with his old sparring partner from Northamptonshire because Dean Jones was absent with a broken finger. Experience, as ever, was thought to be the key for Durham.

Larkins (who has savaged some of the world's best bowlers) against Benson, appeared to be the equivalent of feeding pigs truffles, but Larkins inexplicably picked out the fielder at long off, and when Cook took a liberty with Benson, Leicestershire's wicketkeeper Paul Nixon pulled off a neat stumping.

The key to Durham's rehabilitation lay with the captain, Paul Parker, and Ian Botham, but just when they appeared to be making decent progress in this direction, Parker arguably lost his team the match by selling his partner the sort of dummy rarely seen since Barry John stopped playing rugby for Wales.

Parker pushed into the offside, shot out of the blocks for a single, and then stopped dead in his tracks. Botham, by this time, was half-way down, and does not have the sort of build for an emergency stop, despite his new fish and champagne diet. Done like a kipper, and - as it transpired - no celebration bubbly.

Parker wisely avoided eye contact as Botham steamed by en route to the pavilion, and even more wisely delayed his return while he set about trying to repair the damage. With 54, he did his best, but fate had a black sense of humour yesterday, and Parker (hamstring gone) finally went watching his runner being run out.