Cricket: Betts shows new Durham spirit

Durham 276 and 247 Essex 185 and 243 Durham win by 95 runs
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The Independent Online
DURHAM got an enormous weekend for North-east sport off to a winning start when, two and a half hours before the kick-off time at Wembley, they claimed their first County Championship victory of the season.

Spearheaded by Melvyn Betts, they took just 90 minutes to finish off what remained of Essex's resistance at the Riverside in Chester-le-Street to complete one of the better wins of their short first-class history.

It was a victory manufactured from home-spun materials, without any major contribution from big-name imports. Not only are the exploits of the likes of Ian Botham and Wayne Larkins fading into the collective folk memory, Durham went into this game without last season's three leading run-scorers, Jonathan Lewis, John Morris and their inspirational captain, David Boon, as well as their leading wicket taker, Simon Brown, all four of them injured.

Betts, an enthusiastic Newcastle United supporter, made sure there were no shortcomings in the bowling department and ensured that he would be in front of the television at his local cricket club in Sacriston yesterday afternoon rather than lurking anxiously on the boundary for news, by taking three of the four remaining Essex wickets.

That gave him 6 for 83 for the innings and eight in the match and none of the Essex tail ever looked remotely capable of defying him and frustrating Durham into the afternoon. Getting uneven bounce off the wicket, Betts, perhaps unlucky to miss out on the England A tour to Sri Lanka last winter, looked dangerous from the start and struck the vital first blow when Robert Rollins spooned a catch into the off-side for 41.

That was the beginning of the end for Essex, who had already suffered a minor setback in their quest for an unlikely winning total when their overnight score had been reduced by two on recalculation. Betts then bowled Danny Law, a good friend from their Under-19 tour together, whose hat- trick on Friday had briefly given Essex a glimpse of something more than mere survival. Betts also thought he had Mark Ilott caught behind off one that lifted sharply, but, when that was given not out, had him trapped lbw with the next ball.

The temptation to keep Betts on was strong, but when the last wicket pair of Danny Wilson and Neil Williams began to strike the ball with some comfort, acting captain Nick Speak brought on the spin of Nick Phillips who almost immediately had Williams lbw to finish Essex off.

Betts has had some hammer from Essex, and notably from Ronnie Irani, in the past, but he is also no stranger to impressive bowling analyses; his 9 for 64 against Northamptonshire was not only a Durham record but the best by anyone last season. Since remodelling his action under the influence of the Durham bowling coach, Geoff Arnold, two years ago, he has become a far more effective performer, but he was playing down his latest achievement yesterday.

"It was coming out all right, but I was struggling for my rhythm," he said. "To be honest, the wicket helped a bit." More than anything, though, Durham helped themselves. Betts admitted that Durham sides of the past would not have had the self-belief to take on teams of the calibre of Essex with confidence when they were lacking so many front-line players.

He gives much of the credit for that psychological transformation to Boon. "He is such a fine player that if he says you're a good player you believe in yourself," Betts said. "Youth has come through for us in this game and there's no reason why we can't beat Yorkshire in the Benson and Hedges quarter-final and be competitive throughout the whole season."