Plunkett destroys Essex

CRICKETLIAM Plunkett put down a marker for England one-day recognition with a man-of-the-match display in Durham's extraordinary Friends Provident Trophy semi-final victory over Essex at the Riverside.

CRICKET

LIAM Plunkett put down a marker for England one-day recognition with a man-of-the-match display in Durham's extraordinary Friends Provident Trophy semi-final victory over Essex at the Riverside.

Plunkett, 22, claimed career-best figures of four for 15 as Essex were routed for 71 and guided the north-east county to their maiden Lord's final with an unbeaten 30.

It was a timely display, coming in front of selector Geoff Miller, two days ahead of the squad for the NatWest Series being announced, and one of county cricket's strangest matches of the season.


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A collection of injudicious shots when play finally began 85 minutes late due to overnight rain left Essex in the mire.

But Durham's top order were blitzed by some fine new-ball bowling from Andy Bichel in particular as a succession of leg-before decisions and outside edges left Durham on 38 for seven.

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It was at that point that Plunkett walked in to join Ottis Gibson at the crease and the pair settled a nerve-shredder.

Having lost form drastically during the npower Test series against West Indies, Plunkett was dropped and even got left out by Durham for their previous Trophy match against Warwickshire.

Plunkett's comeback was emphatic and led to a tribute from team-mate Steve Harmison, who has suffered crises of confidence himself during his international career.

“The criticism he has got in the last three weeks, some of it isn't just, because he is such a young lad finding his way on the international scene,” Harmison said.

“I am so pleased for him because that was a fantastic effort.”

The turning point came one run into the unbroken eighth-wicket stand when, in the 10th over of the chase, Danish Kaneria dropped a sprawling chance at mid-on from a chipped drive by Gibson.

Later in the same over Graham Napier bowled a no-ball and Plunkett lofted the free hit for a towering straight six.

“It hit the toe of the bat so it's a good job I've been doing a few weights!” joked Plunkett. “That got us going and we kept ticking it along from there.”

Fittingly it was Plunkett who hit the winning runs, forcing a delivery from Martin Saggers through the covers off the back foot, to raucous cheering from the 4,000 crowd.

Veterans Neil Killeen and Gibson, reduced Essex to 26 for six inside nine overs with the new ball.

England opener Alastair Cook got an inside edge on one which nipped back from Gibson but his top-order colleagues succumbed to some injudicious strokes as Killeen produced figures of 7-2-9-3.

Gibson accounted for Grant Flower and James Foster in successive deliveries and Plunkett wrapped up the rest.

Graham Napier was trapped leg before after a handsome cameo in the innings' highest stand of 28 with Andy Bichel, who was caught at deep square leg hooking.

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