Atherton leads victory charge

County Championship: Career-best figures for Keedy set up Lancashire win to keep them in touch at top

As the First Division of the County Championship resolves itself into a three-cornered battle between Surrey, Yorkshire and Lancashire, much will depend on the ruthlessness with which the contenders despatch the lesser lights.

As the First Division of the County Championship resolves itself into a three-cornered battle between Surrey, Yorkshire and Lancashire, much will depend on the ruthlessness with which the contenders despatch the lesser lights.

Despite best-ever bowling figures from Gary Keedy, who must now be close to his county cap, Lancashire allowed Durham to dangle long enough on the hook before finishing them off to raise some doubts about their capabilities in that department.

Having broken the back of Durham's second innings the previous afternoon, Keedy and Gary Yates, already with three wickets apiece, found it surprisingly hard work to wrap up the tail.

Even with the help of Chris Schofield - central contract or no central contract, very much the third Lancashire spinner in the pecking order in this game - they were kept at bay for an hour and three-quarters by the Durham captain, and former Lancashire batsman, Nick Speak, and the first of their bowlers, John Wood. Worse than that, the two found it relatively easy to compile runs.

An over from Yates in which each batsman in turn used his feet to drive for four was not quite typical, but it showed that neither the bowling nor the slow, turning pitch held many terrors for them, despite the previous evening's collapse.

Warren Hegg, not quite his unobtrusive immaculate self behind the stumps this season according to some at Old Trafford, missed a routine leg-side stumping of Wood from the bowling of Schofield. It looked potentially expensive, butLancashire got the stroke of luck they needed when the Yorkshire-born seamer was caught on the square-leg boundary for 44 after picking out Neil Fairbrother as he attacked Keedy.

Speak was almost run out by a quick piece of work from John Crawley, but Durham survived to lunch otherwise unscathed and with the prospect of saving the match still alive.

Keedy claimed his fifth wicket of the innings when Nick Phillips lobbed one to Yates in the covers, and when Neil Killeen - capable, as he showed in the first innings, of sticking around to good effect - was lbw to Yates without scoring, the end of Durham's resistance was in sight.

Nevertheless, by the time Simon Brown was last man out, caught off bat and pad by Michael Atherton to give Keedy career-best figures of 6 for 56, Durham had held up Lancashire through 72 overs of unbroken spin, Speak remaining unbeaten against his old county with an obdurate 38.

That left Lancashire requiring 132 from a minimum of 41 overs. Jon Lewis put Crawley down off Wood before Lancashire had scored, but Atherton looked far more assured, especially when glor-iously cover-driving Brown.

After 10 overs Durham too turned to spin, employing the occasional off-breaks of Michael Gough, who had taken four wickets in the first innings, and the more practised arm of Phillips. Crawley holed out off Phillips, but with Fairbrother picking off the bad ball, Lancashire were well on their way by tea.

Fairbrother fell to Phillips straight after the interval, but Atherton was severe on Gough, showing that it does not matter how extravagant the spin offered by a wicket if the ball is over-pitched.

Sourav Ganguly went cheaply, but Atherton moved resplendently to his 50. Durham signalled the beginning of the end by summoning up the obscure Chinamen of Simon Katich and Lancashire got home with more than an hour to spare, helped by a rapid 32 from Graham Lloyd.

That sets up what might be termed a 40-pointer at Headingley, starting on Friday, How much turn, the Old Trafford cynics are wondering, will there be in that pitch?

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