Cricket: Win-only Betts for Durham

Middlesex 335 and 216 Durham 312 and 240 for 9 Durham win by one wicket
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NINE RUNS or one wicket were required for victory by either side when Phil Tufnell started the penultimate over.

Melvyn Betts hit a towering six into the grandstand off the first ball and then finely leg- glanced the next for three to give Durham their first Championship win over Middlesex and their third victory of the season. This was despite numerous self-inflicted crises but they now have the Championship leaders, Surrey, in their sights.

For years the county from the North-east have inhabited the lower regions of the table but they now have a self-belief allied to some talented players and have learned to win tight matches. And this match was certainly tight.

Throughout the day the advantage switched from one side to the other, a wicket or small partnership often enough to change the complexion of the game, the excitement and tension being maintained by cricket that varied between the brilliant and the foolhardy.

Such is the beauty of sport, it challenges the participant to dare and, even then, heroic performances do not guarantee victory. Middlesex set a target of 240 in a minimum of 76 overs but whenever Durham threatened victory they invariably lost a wicket.

Forty-nine runs were needed at the rate of three an over with three wickets remaining when Michael Foster holed out to a spectacular catch at long- off, then 21 were required off seven when Nicky Phillips was clean bowled by James Hewitt.

How Steve Harmison survived is difficult to fathom but Betts rose to the occasion, a true hero, his undefeated 29 combined with another five- wicket haul marking him as a cricketer of immense promise and character. And yet after the morning session it looked like Middlesex would take the spoils and Paul Weekes would be lauded as the man of the day. He scored his second undefeated half-century of the match and he shepherded the home side to a lead of 240 at the close of the innings. This was about 40 more than fair value, particularly as two wickets fell for the addition of only 19 runs in the morning.

Weekes remained firm, however, but in need of an ally. Little did anyone suspect that it would come in the form of Phil Tufnell, promoted to number 10 and celebrating the news that next year is his benefit year. Sticking to his favourite method against the quickies of stepping away to the leg- side, Tufnell pierced the well patrolled off-side field with a succession of deliberate cover-drives and slashes.

No quarter is given to tail- enders these days, particularly when every single run is vital, but Durham incomprehensibly failed to target Tufnell's body. Had they done so, it is unlikely that he would have helped Weekes put on 58 for the ninth wicket, bravery not featuring especially highly on the left-arm spinners cricketing curriculum vitae.

Betts had Tufnell dropped at backward-point but without it he would not have had the opportunity to win the game in such style. The offender, Nick Speak, endured a tortuous day, as he watched the stand develop and Durham's chances recede with every run added by the partnership and then he suffered the indignity of a pair, his second in three games. But due to the efforts of the rest of his team he can reflect on a vital victory, a luxury not afforded to Weekes.