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Durham pacesetter who is dreaming of England;
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MAN IN THE MIDDLE

Simon Brown (Durham)

Given that it is towards the most successful counties that England selectors look first for inspiration, to attract regular attention while playing in a struggling side is quite a feat. Yet Simon Brown, Durham's 26-year-old left-arm seamer, invariably merits a mention when Test match options are discussed.

The first month of the season has seen Brown enjoy another successful run. Five Nottinghamshire scalps in the current Championship match raised his first-class tally to 30 as the country's leading wicket-taker, setting off more optimistic speculation.

It is a road along which the Sunderland-born player has passed before. In 1992, Durham's debut first-class season, he put himself into contention in much the same way, again setting the early-season pace with 35 wickets by mid-June. In the event, others were preferred.

Consolation for near-misses in home Test series often comes in the shape of a place on a winter tour but, in that respect, Brown's status with Durham has probably worked against him. Burdened inevitably with the heaviest workload, his form has tended to slip towards the end of the season, at just the wrong time. Last season was typical, the first nine first-class matches bringing him 40 wickets at 21.87, the last eight only 12 at 80.41.

"I think I did suffer through bowling too much in the middle of the season," Brown said. "But we struggled so much with injuries it was just unbelievable. Steve Lugsden did not bowl at all, Jon Wood did not figure after the first three games and Melvyn Betts missed a lot of cricket, too." Brown himself bowled more than 550 overs.

The thought occurs that were he with a more successful county, or a more fashionable one, Brown's ability to swing the ball both ways might have gained him the recognition many feel he deserves. But he dismisses the suggestion.

"I would like to think you are judged on your individual merits, regardless of who you play for," he said. "There was a lot of competition for places at Northants and to come here seemed the right move to make. For me it has been successful.

"In any case, I don't tend to think a lot about whether I might be picked, although if it did happen it would be very nice."

Golden arm (Bowling performance of the week)

Mark Ealham (Kent)

Genuine all-rounders are a priceless commodity - but the 26-year-old Ealham begins to look the part. Last year he recorded his maiden century and made the fastest-ever Sunday League hundred. Now his swing bowling is reaping more rewards, the latest being a match haul of 8 for 71 (including one spell of 5 for 29) as Kent beat Sussex in two days at Tunbridge Wells.

Team of the week

1 Andy Moles Warwickshire

2 *David Byas Yorkshire

3 Alistair Brown Surrey

4 Graham Thorpe Surrey

5 Mohammad Azharuddin India

6 Darren Blenkiron Durham

7 Shane Lee Somerset

8 Adrian Aymes Hampshire

9 Mark Ealham Kent

10 Dave Follett Middlesex

11 Alan Mullally Leicestershire

Quote of the week

"I've put the red nose away and the unicycle has broken down." How the Texaco Trophy centurion Alistair Brown responded to those who accused him of batting like a clown.

Butter fingers

Darren Bicknell (Surrey)

Brotherly love may have been strained after Surrey's Benson and Hedges Cup hopes crashed. A total of 229 was not much to defend in their quarter-final with Yorkshire at the Oval - but Martin Bicknell saw hope when he induced David Byas into an early hook. Poised at long leg was brother Darren, who promptly spilled a good chance. Byas, then 15, finished 116 not out.

Hit man (Batting performance of the week)

Andy Moles (Warwickshire)

It takes a stout man to survive the current hostilities between Warwickshire and Northamptonshire and Moles fits the description. Playing in only his second Championship match in 11 months after injury, the sturdy opener rescued the title-holders from 118 for 5 with a superb 164 spanning seven hours 40 minutes, laying the foundations for probable victory today.

Rain check

Hours lost to rain during the County Championship

1 Somerset 31

2 Derbyshire 26.8

3 Northamptonshire 24.5

4 Gloucestershire 22.9

5 Durham 22.8

6 Sussex 22.7

7 Kent 22.5

8 Lancashire 20.8

9 Middlesex 20.8

10 Leicestershire 19.5

11 Essex 18

12 Glamorgan 16.7

13 Surrey 16.3

14 Worcestershire 15.2

15 Yorkshire 13.1

16 Hampshire 12.1

17 Nottinghamshire 12.1

18 Warwickshire 10.9

Tales of the unexpected

Peter Hartley (Yorkshire)

Just when it seemed Middlesex were about to engage top gear with Yorkshire 162 for 9 at Lord's on Friday, along came Peter Hartley to scupper thoughts of an easy victory. With two first-class centuries to his name, Hartley is hardly a rabbit - but neither do innings such as Saturday's come often. His unbeaten 88, including 10 fours and two sixes, was his best for three years.

Where sixes are a just drop in the River Tone

AROUND THE GROUNDS

No 4: County Ground

Cricket-watchers who remember when life moved at an easier pace tend to have a special affection for Taunton, not least because the County Ground in St James's Street is so close to the centre of this charming Somerset market town.

Book a bed at the County Hotel and one can happily abandon the car, taking a short morning stroll to the ground in the shadow of St James's Church, as generations of spectators have since 1882, when the cider county established its headquarters there.

The adjacent River Tone offers an inviting target for big hitters. Balls were almost certainly deposited there by Harold Gimblett and Viv Richards in somewhat contrasting eras. Malcolm Nash, of all people, exacted a kind of revenge when he played on the ground in 1978, 10 years after Gary Sobers had made him the unwitting party to a legend with his six sixes in an over at Swansea. Nash hit Dennis Breakwell, the Somerset spinner, for four in a row.

Taunton saw Richards make 322 against Warwickshire, who return this week, in 1985, and witnessed the highest individual score in England this century three years later when Graeme Hick, only 21 at the time, made his astonishing unbeaten 405 for Worcestershire. Their declaration left the Zimbabwean 19 short of the all-time record set by A C MacLaren, for Lancashire, in 1895, on the same ground.

Beyond the boundary, a splendid new pavilion, built from the proceeds of the Botham-Richards-Garner boom years, now dominates, obscuring the distant Quantock Hills from the view of local weather-watchers. But the eccentric old pavilion remains and an old barn on the Priory Bridge Road side now houses a small Somerset Cricket Museum. There is good, homely food in the old pavilion, where early risers take breakfast.

It's in the rules...

Law 42 (11): Players damaging the pitch. Always a bone of contention with the bowlers' union, who perceive another inequality here, complaining that while an umpire can effectively "send off" a bowler who repeatedly scuffs his size 12s on the pitch, a batsman can practically take a plough to the wicket and escape scot free.

Of course, "accidentally" creating a mini-minefield for one of your mates to aim at is hardly a new idea, and few pace bowlers can hold up their hands in complete innocence. It is the first trick an umpire learns to spot and penalties are now much the same as for deliberate intimidation.

"No ball" cannot be called but the procedure is otherwise identical, with a caution issued and the captain and other umpire informed. The offender gets one more chance prior to a ban.

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