Cricket: Confidence of Betts shows Durham the way to the top

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HANG on a minute. Is that a misprint or can it really be Durham occupying fifth place in the Britannic Assurance table? The same Durham, indeed, that qualified to meet Yorkshire in the quarter-finals of the Benson and Hedges Cup?

It is no deception. Early days these may be but the bright start put together by the Championship's youngest county must surely not be dismissed as a freak.

Not long ago, the idea of them defeating Essex would have seemed almost preposterous but not only did they do so at the Riverside ground on Saturday, it was with a good deal in hand, having outplayed a side still among the strongest in the competition throughout. They can travel to Canterbury to play Kent on Thursday with relish.

Given some steel by David Boon's confidence-boosting leadership, Durham may at last see the fruits of their faith in home-grown talent, a faith that has been severely tested in the last two seasons.

Two 19-year-olds, Michael Gough and Steve Harmison - currently the country's leading first-class wicket-taker - both of whom are Durham lads, made significant contributions to the 95-run win over Essex but it was the continuing form of 23-year-old Melvyn Betts, whose 6 for 83 was chiefly responsible for the visiting side's second-innings demise.

Betts still feels he is struggling for rhythm, but believes the confidence flowing through the side will not be short-lived.

"There is no reason why we cannot finish in the top six," he boldly declares. "Once we would not have had the self-belief to take on a side like Essex but David Boon has given us confidence in ourselves."

A full programme of AXA League matches makes for a strange Tuesday before the Championship resumes, other highlights of which include chances for Sussex, at home to Derbyshire, and Yorkshire, away to Gloucestershire, to put pressure on leaders Surrey, who face Somerset at Taunton.