Cricket: Wasim wades in for the kill

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The Independent Online
By David Llewellyn

at Chester-le-Street

Lancashire 196 & 434; Durham 158 & 122

Lancashire win by 350 runs

THE MAGNITUDE of this victory could be matched only by the disappointment Lancashire must be feeling after slipping further behind Championship leaders Surrey because they failed to get any batting bonus points. They are still only 23 points adrift, but they can ill afford any more blank sheets.

As for Chester-le-Street, Lancashire have come to admire its facilities as well as the facility with which Durham succumb to them. On their last visit here the Red Rose county won by 345 runs, this time there was a marginal improvement on that, which came courtesy of one man in particular - Wasim Akram.

This season - possibly his last at Old Trafford - has not been great by his usual standards. The wickets have been harder to come by and runs less plentiful, but, like all great players, when his county needs him Wasim usually comes good.

Without Wasim's all-round contribution they would have had to work far harder. His season's best of four for 40 yesterday (7 for 79 in the match) was all the more impressive because the Australian coach Dav Whatmore afterwards revealed that Wasim has still not fully recovered from a bruised toe. "If he had been 100 per cent fit it would have been over a lot sooner," growled Whatmore.

As for Durham, the slide continues. In their seven seasons in first-class cricket they have finished outside the bottom two just once, and then they only scraped to 16th place. This was their fifth defeat (all of them in three days) in seven matches.

Injuries have severely disrupted their attack. The batting has let them down badly all season and if that were not enough they lost Nick Speak before he could lift a bat here and Martin Speight has also been laid up.

With all that stacked against them, yesterday's pathetic show was merely salt in the wounded pride of the supporters. The 473 runs needed for victory was never a realistic prospect and the white flag went up almost immediately. Both openers were back in the swish Riverside pavilion before two overs had been completed. What little resistance there was came from young wicketkeeper Andrew Pratt, who scored a streaky but gutsy 34, and Paul Collingwood (25), with a stand of 60 for the fifth wicket.

Light relief was provided by a four-ball battle with Wasim from tail- ender Jason Searle. The Pakistani all-rounder, who had smashed Searle's bowling all over the place on the previous day, now concentrated on the hapless spinner's feet. The first two balls were toe crunchers accompanied by bellows for lbw.

The third struck Searle in the box and he dropped to the ground writhing in agony to the amusement of the Lancashire fielders. When he staggered up a couple of minutes later Wasim's fourth ball again thudded into his feet, mercifully this time the appeal was upheld. Shortly after Durham were put out of their collective misery.