Cricket: Surrey buoyed by Benjamin

Surrey 323 and 142-1 dec Durham 253-3 dec and 91 Surrey win by 121 runs
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COAXING AN hour of farcical cricket out of that phlegmatic Australian David Boon was the first of Surrey's considerable achievements yesterday. The second was to bowl out Durham for 91 on a slow Riverside seamer and achieve victory by 121 runs.

Joey Benjamin's 6 for 35 brought the title back within Surrey's sights, despite finding themselves over a barrel when it came to negotiating an escape route from the plight inflicted by John Morris's century and the loss of one and a half days.

Surrey began the day 25 points behind the leaders Leicestershire, the team they face at The Oval in the final match starting on Thursday. Victory cut the deficit to nine and set up the most intriguing finish to a County Championship for many years.

Surrey will be without Saqlain Mushtaq, required by Pakistan for the Sahara Cup in Toronto, but they had no need of his services yesterday as Benjamin defied any stiffening of his 37-year-old limbs in an accurate 17-over stint broken only by tea. Moving the ball away off the seam, he had three victims to edged catches, trimmed Mike Roseberry had his off- bail trimmed and had the last two victims lbw. Benjamin, who had not taken more than three wickets in an innings for two years, played only because Alex Tudor was not fit.

The odds appeared to favour Durham during an opening stand of 20 between John Morris and Jon Lewis, but Benjamin had Morris taken at second slip to spark a collapse to 58 for 9. A belligerent 33 from Jon Wood steered Durham past their lowest first class total of 67, made at Lord's two years ago, before he was bowled by Ben Hollioake to complete the rout in 37.5 overs.

Boon had to sacrifice his own principles in delivering 7.4 overs of declaration bowling, but a target of 213 in 61 overs appeared to give Durham every chance of their first Championship win since early June.

Victory would also have kept alive their chance of climbing to eighth and earning a place in the Super Cup, which explained Boon's determination to extract every possible point. He batted on for one over when play began 55 minutes late after early morning rain, enabling Durham to gain a second batting point by taking 22 from Jonathan Batty's nine-ball over.

Surrey then extended their lead of 70 by taking 142 runs off 15.4 overs of the worst dross Boon and Lewis could bring themselves to deliver.