Cricket: Magical Azharuddin

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The Independent Online
Durham . . . . . . . . . . . . . .625-6 dec and 162-3

Derbyshire . . . . . . . . . . . .341 and 442

Durham win by seven wickets

NOT EVEN an innings of 205 from only 192 balls by Mohammad Azharuddin, which would have been as fine an exhibition of batting as most present had ever seen, could prevent Durham rounding off an impressive all-round team effort by beating Derbyshire by seven wickets yesterday.

The boost to Durham's confidence and self-esteem from such a wonderful start to their third Championship season will be immeasurable, not least because the team know they more than match Derbyshire in pretty well every department. The one exception, of course, was Azharuddin's remarkable display.

Appearing when Derbyshire were still more than 100 adrift after following on, he enjoyed his one moment of luck when he was dropped at slip off his first ball from Simon Brown. After that only 33 runs came from the bat at the other end while Azharuddin went through a repertoire of powerful and elegant strokes that brought him 21 fours and six sixes.

All the latter blows were off the left-arm spin of David Graveney who, operating over the wicket into the bowlers' footmarks, posed problems for the lesser mortals. Azharuddin either adjusted his stroke if the ball turned or, more often, strode down the pitch to hit clean and straight.

Graveney thought it was probably the best display he had ever seen in his 23 years in the game. 'In a macabre sort of way it was a privilege to be on the receiving end because everything was done so positively and so perfectly with never a hint of pad play,' he said.

Whipping good-length balls through mid-wicket or stroking them through the covers, Azharuddin made his second hundred from only 81 balls. When he finally succumbed to something looking suspiciously like a half-volley, the entire Durham side joined in the standing ovation.

Perhaps it would be churlish to note that Derbyshire were still not out of danger at that point and when the deserving Brown mopped up, Durham's target was only 159 from 57 overs. No team in history had triumphed after conceding 625 runs in the first innings and although Derbyshire bowled much better than in the first innings, history was not about to be made on a pitch which yielded no fewer than 1,570 runs, equalling the fifth-highest aggregate in Championship history.