Cricket: Business as usual

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The Independent Online
Sussex. .440 and 362-2 dec

Durham. .325 and 26-2

AFTER one of the headier passages in the county's brief first- class history, normality is returning to Durham cricket. Two weeks ago, the end of one era turned the eyes of the nation toward the quiet hollow in which the Durham University ground nestled; then, first time out post-Botham, Durham beat Essex, the champions. A bright new era? Perhaps not.

Having quashed the possibility of a season without a first-class victory by winning at Chelmsford - 14 months on from their last success - Durham have struggled here to contain a side generally reckoned to be rivals for the championship wooden spoon. Sussex dominated every session yesterday, taking a first-innings lead of 115 at midday before an afternoon spent methodically destroying Durham's toothless bowling. It was a surprise that Alan Wells needed 362 on the board before choosing the moment to declare. Durham must have been flattered by such respect.

They ought to have felt embarrassed, such was the ease with which Sussex raced towards a seeemingly impregnable position. After picking off the remnants of the Durham first innings, Sussex reached 57 for 0 in an hour by lunch, added 179 before tea and set Durham an unlikely target of 478 to win just before six o'clock.

Bill Athey provided the hub of Sussex's freewheeling advance with an unbeaten 118 in four and three-quarter hours, a fourth century of the summer for the Yorkshireman and enough to take him past 1,000 first-class runs for the 11th time.

Athey shared an opening partnership of 143 with Neil Lenham, who has made a splendid return after a month off with injury. By the time he played on to David Graveney, he had added 78 to his first-innings 88, with career-best bowling of 4 for 13 in between.

The real entertainment was still to come. Martin Speight tried to reverse sweep his first ball bowled by Graveney. He missed, but it was about his only failure. He went to 50 in 30 balls, with 18 in one over off Simon Hughes, and had faced just 42 for his 66th when he leapt down the wicket in pursuit of a wide ball from Phil Bainbridge only to be stumped. After four sixes and five fours, one of the season's quickest hundreds had looked certain.

Wells prolonged the carnage in person and after a particularly venomous Franklyn Stephenson was at last unleashed in the evening sunshine, the home side were probably lucky to finish on no worse than 26 for 2.