Cricket: Durham explore new heights

Durham 249-4 Northamptonshire 163
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WHEN David Boon arrived in Durham 14 months ago it was suggested that Daniel Boone would have been a more appropriate choice for the improbable mission of putting England's outpost county on the map. It seemed a devilish task, even for a Tasmanian, but after six years in the wildernessDurham are exploring new frontiers. At 11.29am yesterday, as Martin Speight pushed a half-paced Devon Malcolm delivery to mid-wicket for a single, Boon's boys pushed through to nose-bleed territory in the Championship table.

At 200 for 4, Durham claimed the bonus point that took them past Sussex into second place - their highest point since they set out in the first- class game in the summer of 1992. They did so with the feet of their leader planted firmly on north-east terra firma. "When I came last year I thought it would be a five-year programme for Durham to become a force in the game," Boon said. "I think the guys are 12 months ahead of schedule but they certainly won't get carried away. I won't allow it."

The gods would not allow it either yesterday. Speight and his fifth-wicket partner, Paul Collingwood, were allowed to enjoy their county's place in the sun for just 29 minutes before the heavens opened. It was nevertheless clear to see the transformation Boon has effected. His middle-order men attacked from the off, adding 81 to their overnight score and taking their partnership to 95.

They wielded willow with impressive assurance, prompting Kevin Curran to turn to the spin of Graeme Swann. It made no difference. Speight advanced to 66 and Collingwood reached his half-century too. Such sterling work had Boon's pugnacity stamped upon it. Speight had not previously ventured beyond the 30 mark this summer. The wicketkeeper learned his trade at Sussex before arriving at Chester-le-Street last summer. Collingwood is one of the locals who have prospered under Boon's inspiring influence at the Riverside Ground.

The two young pacemen topping the national wicket-taking chart are both home grown Durham products - Melvyn Betts, mentioned as a candidate for Darren Gough's place in the Second Test, and Steve Harmison. Between them, the 23-year-old Betts and the 19-year-old Harmison have already claimed 63 wickets. "Durham have become a bowling side," John Emburey, Northamptonshire's coach said, "and that's what you need to win games."

The days when they relied on the waning talents of Botham and Larkins are becoming a distant memory. One more victory and they will match their record total for a Championship campaign - four. They might not secure it tomorrow, which would be a pity. Having accounted for Middlesex and Nottinghamshire, Boon's frontiersmen stand on the threshold of an historic achievement. Dur-ham have never won three successive Championship matches. That, in the football season just ended, was a feat beyond the Premiership team who use the adjacent Riverside Sports Ground as their training base.