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MAN IN THE MIDDLE

Boon prepares for the boom

David Boon had already seen enough rain to accept that unfriendly weather goes with the territory in the north-east of England but the walrus moustache did seem to be drooping more than usual.

After an all-night deluge, it had not taken long for the umpires to decide that it would need several hours of sunshine to raise even a forlorn hope that play would be possible and a glance towards a slate grey sky suggested that koala bears would jump down from the trees before the sun broke through.

Which meant, quite apart from huge disappointment for a steadily growing crowd at the Chester-le-Street ground last Tuesday, a truncated reunion for Boon with his baggy green-capped chums from the Australian touring team.

As they piled back on to the team bus bound for the opening one-day international at Leeds, the man who now captains Durham admitted to feeling one or two pangs. "Sure I miss being part of it," he said. "That was brought home to me when I watched the first press conference of this summer's tour on television. Playing for Australia was such a big part of my life I'll probably always miss it.

"But that doesn't mean I regret my decision to retire."

Durham certainly have no complaints about the craggy 36-year-old batsman's commitment to their cause.

Boon has not only taken up residence in the county but brought his wife and three children with him, despite the climate. And he is enthusiastic about the challenge on the field.

"There are similarities with Tasmania eight or nine years ago, where we didn't win a Shield match for four and a half years," he said. "But there is a tremendous base at this club and I have been pleased with the attitude the guys are showing on the field. The thing now is to learn how to win."

THE TOP TEN

The 10 highest individual scores in the B&H Cup

1 Graham Gooch 198* Essex v Sussex (Hove) 1982 2 Jimmy Cook 177

Somerset v Sussex (Hove) 1990 3 Gordon Greenidge 173* Hants v Minor C (Amersham) 1973 4 Alec Stewart 167* Surrey v Somerset (The Oval) 1994 5 Alec Stewart 160 Surrey v Hampshire (The Oval) 1996 6 Brian Davison 158* Leics v Warwicks (Coventry) 1972 7 Hansie Cronje 158 Leics v Lancs (Old Trafford) 1995 8 Martin Crowe 155* Somerset v Hants (Soton) 1987 9 Robin Smith 155 Hants v Glamorgan (Soton) 1989 10 Mike Procter 154* Gloucs v Somerset (Taunton) 1972

Gooch: the run machine

Former England captain Graham Gooch (right) has almost a monopoly of batting records in the Benson and Hedges Cup. In 1979, when his 120 in the final against tomorrow's quarter-final opponents, Surrey, at Lord's enabled Essex to win their first major trophy, he established the highest single-season aggregate of 591 runs, including three centuries, a record he shares with Graeme Hick. Gooch reached 2,000 career B & H runs faster (44 innings) than any other batsman. His career total of 5,176 runs in the competition exceeds the next highest (Mike Gatting) by 2,255, while his tally of centuries (15) is more than double any other batsman.

TERMS OF THE GAME

Nelson

The supposedly unlucky score of 111 gained its name on the basis of Admiral Nelson having one eye, one arm and one leg, even though this is an historical inaccuracy, since the noble Lord was at no time reduced to one leg. None the less, the umpire, David Shepherd, insists on hopping from one foot to the other whenever the score (or any multiple thereof) occurs. Statistics do not bear out Nelson's reputation. Indeed, analysis has shown that the instance of dismissal in Test matches at 112 is greater.

2001: An open space odyssey for Hampshire's home base

AROUND THE GROUNDS

Northlands Road, Southampton

Northlands Road has played host to first-class cricket since 1885 but its days are numbered. Following the award of a pounds 7.1m grant from the National Lottery, Hampshire plan to abandon their long-time home in favour of a pounds 16 m, 10,000-seat stadium on land near the M27 at West End.

The planned new site includes a self-contained nursery ground for second- team games, a cricket academy, gymnasium, nine-hole golf course, indoor and outdoor bowls facilities, an all-weather sports pitch and parking for 3,000 cars. The new ground will probably be ready to stage first-class games in the 2001 season. In the meantime, Hampshire are hoping to raise pounds 3.5m from the sale of Northlands Road, which would certainly realise a healthy profit.

When the county took residence originally it was for an annual payment of just pounds 160. They later paid pounds 5,400 to buy the land in 1893. The ground's pavilion dates back to 1885, its construction, at a cost of pounds 2,000, being a condition of the original lease agreement. The present frontage and adjoining ladies' pavilion were added in 1896. A scoreboard was erected opposite the pavilions in 1911.

Not until the 1960s were the two pavilions linked, at which time the county acquired a bell from the Cunard liner, Athlone Castle. Buildings added since include the indoor cricket school, squash club and hospitality boxes.

Doubtless there will be those who will regret the move but the Northlands Road ground, limited to 4,500 seats and with only 200 car park spaces, has become a dead weight. Although once flanked by open space - it used to adjoin a speedway stadium - it is now hemmed in by congested residential streets.

THE WEEK

AHEAD

Those who take issue with the editor of Wisden's views about "exclusive and exclusionist" cricket might do well to invite that gentleman to reacquaint himself tomorrow with Chelmsford on a cup day.

Outside international matches, nowhere is the sceptic more likely to be convinced of the popular appeal of the game than at Essex's headquarters, particularly on the occasion of a Benson and Hedges quarter-final such as tomorrow's, against Surrey.

The teams have met 13 times already in B & H matches, most recently in 1991. Although Surrey dominated the early confrontations, winning the first six, since Essex broke the sequence in the 1979 final the scales have tipped the other way. Of the last six encounters, Essex have won five, Surrey's last triumph coming at The Oval in 1982.

Surrey's hopes crashed at the quarter-final hurdle last year but it may not be wise to bet against them this time, with confidence high after the county's influential role in England's Texaco Trophy success.

Elsewhere, Leicester bid to extend a 100 per cent record against Somerset at Grace Road, Kent meet Warwickshire at Canterbury and the 1987 final is repeated when Yorkshire take on Northamptonshire at Headingley.

Top of the form

Bowlers Wkts Last five (most recent on right)

1 D Malcolm (Derbys) 23 4-95; 5-50; 6-75; 4-24; 4-91

2 P DeFreitas (Derbys) 17 3-35; 7-64; 1-53; 5-46; 1-88

3 M Smith (Gloucs) 17 4-61; 6-45; 3-35; 1-44; 3-68

4 M McCague (Kent) 16 1-9; 6-75; 1-41; 1-71; 7-82

5 M Bowen (Notts) 16 2-62; 0-8; 2-70; 7-57; 4-34

6 R Croft (Glam) 15 2-37; 1-10; 4-58; 5-33; 3-54

7 D Millns (Leics) 14 3-53; 3-38; 3-34; 4-64; 1-17

8 P Newport (Worcs) 14 0-40; 7-37; 1-20; 4-33; 2-48

9 D Gough (Yorks) 13 5-56; 0-33; 4-62; 4-65

10 K Evans (Middx) 13 1-81 6-40 1-63 1-68 4-40

Batsmen Runs Last five (most recent on right)

1 S Law (Essex) 370 27; 78; 63; 118*

2 D Lehmann (Yorks) 366 54; 62; 43; 177; 30

3 R Harden (Somerset) 321 136*; 103; 32; 50

4 G Rose (Somerset) 310 10; 109*; 191

5 J Russell (Gloucs) 263 57; 66; 59; 91*

6 B Athey (Sussex) 262 31; 39; 138*; 17; 37

7 T Ward (Kent) 252 6, 96, 67, 83

8 P Johnson (Notts) 250 34; 66; 87*; 60; 3

9 S James (Glamorgan) 249 52; 46; 54; 21; 76

10 K Newell (Sussex) 247 23*; 35; 21; 56; 112

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