Cricket: Boon's fledglings flying high

Leicestershire 322 and 74-4 Durham 278 Match drawn
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The Independent Online
STATELY, PLUMP David Boon played his final innings in first-class cricket yesterday, scoring 53. It was dour, dedicated and highly significant, because Boon made sure Durham, his adopted county, will play first-division county cricket next season.

Durham have surprised everyone but themselves, and one reason why their coach, Norman Gifford, is so pleased with the achievement is that it finally gives the county credibility. In their first seven seasons in the Championship they came bottom three times; their highest finish was 14th.

Gifford and Graham Gooch, their batting coach, single out Boon as the man who made the difference. This is his third year as captain and he is, from their reports, a patient, hard-working leader, old enough, at 38, to be a precocious father to promising young men like Michael Gough and Stephen Harmison.

Boon's substantial frame and walrus-like moustache suggest an Australian who is no less fond of his beer than his opinions. The beer he does like, but his manner does not fit the parody. He prefers to explain quietly what to learn from unhappy experiences. His legacy is a young Western Australian batsman, Simon Katich, while Nick Speak takes over as captain.

When play began, Boon was 47 not out, having shared a stand of 65 with the 23-year-old Paul Collingwood, one of five players from the North-east who have come into the team via the county's youth programme.

There were 21 more runs needed for the second batting point that would secure a first- division place, assuming the match was drawn. With a strong wind bringing rain from the west, that was a fair assumption. Boon brought up his fifty with a powerful square cut but ended his first-class batting career in infuriating fashion, bowled off his pads playing no shot to a ball from Michael Kasprowicz that cut in sharply. His three hours at the crease guarded Durham's morale just by being there.

This was as well, because three wickets fell before the 250 came up, and the good half of the small crowd that had driven down from Durham were able to rejoice, and rejoice again. Kasprowicz, playing his last game as a well-liked import, took three wickets yesterday morning to finish with 5 for 75.

When Leicestershire batted again, Boon took a fine diving catch, two- handed at second slip, to dismiss Darren Maddy pushing forward. Spectators watched - until the rain came at 2.30pm - a Championship-winning team on the verge of disintegration. Alan Mullally is bound for Hampshire; Paul Nixon is probably going to Sussex; and David Millns and Darren Stevens are hawking them- selves to the highest bidder.

In the Leicestershire dressing-room, there was despondency, despite finishing in third place; in Durham's next door, the champagne was sprayed, because they finished eighth.