Cricket: Tufnell in the swing

Middlesex v Durham
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WHEN Durham finally managed to end the Middlesex innings their target was 240 off a minimum of 76 overs, a stiff task certainly but not impossible, and if they are to remain near the top of the table they will need to start winning matches such as this.

In truth their chances of victory were reduced when they allowed Middlesex's last four wickets to add 77 runs.

It could have been so different though as two early wickets fell with only 19 added and the game was perfectly balanced.

Middlesex were probably 20 shy of a reasonable total considering the conditions were humid and overcast, ideal for their swing bowlers Tim Bloomfield and James Hewitt, and Durham would have been confident of chasing around 200.

As it was Phil Tufnell joined Paul Weekes and the pair added a soul-destroying 58, the only half-century stand of the innings.

Often a game of cricket can in effect be decided by one session of play or a single partnership and this is increasingly relevant the tighter the game.

It was this stand that swung the pendulum firmly towards the home side and yet if Nick Speak had clung on to a chance at backward point off Tufnell it would still have been an even contest.

Admittedly it was a hard chance, but it is often the difficult ones when taken that change a game.

And Speak was to suffer further dismay when he completed his second pair in three games minutes before lunch.

Weekes looked composed and was accumulating runs slowly in his unfussy manner, but an ally was needed. Little did anyone suspect that it would come in the form of Tufnell, promoted to number 10 and celebrating the news that next year is his benefit season. Sticking to his favoured method against the quickies of stepping away to the leg side, not from fear as has been so uncharitably suggested in the past but because it gives him room to swing the bat, Tufnell pierced the well patrolled off-side field with a succession of deliberate cover drives and slashes.

No quarter is given to tailenders these days, particularly when every run is vital, but Durham failed to target Tufnell's body.

His partner, Weekes, toured India with England A in 1994-95 but is not quite good enough for the higher level, and technically he is found wanting at the top of the order, but batting at seven in this match he has scored 144 undefeated runs, his first championship scores of any note since September 1996.

Weekes' influence continued in the field as he held a stinging catch at third slip to dismiss Jon Lewis and Speak quickly followed.

At 11 for 2 the game looked gone and a bizarre innings by David Boon didn't help the north-east cause and he perished stumped off Tufnell at least three yards down the wicket.

Stolen singles and solid defence were mixed with wild swings by the Tasmanian, and although a sense of urgency was needed if they were to keep any hopes of victory alive, there was also need for calculated aggression.

With Boon's dismissal went Durham's chances, supposedly, but Paul Collingwood and Michael Gough took the score to 92 at tea, with 148 still needed. With the power of Michael Foster to come anything was still possible.