THE Durham members' end-of-season party on Saturday night was cancelled through lack of interest, but a healthy crowd turned up at Riverside yesterday to witness the season's last rites.

They were not disappointed as Shoaib Akhtar steamed in as though determined to stage a triumphal farewell and quickly wrecked Middlesex's promotion hopes in the National League.

Although they recovered from 27 for seven to make 112 for nine in their allotted 30 overs after a delayed start, Durham eased home by nine wickets with 14.2 overs to spare. Their seventh win left them in seventh place out of ten in the second division.

With Nicky Peng dominating the strike and going for his shots, Martin Love contributed only eight to an opening stand of 51 before being caught behind.

Vince Wells then joined Peng in chancing his arm. They didn't always connect, but when they did the ball flew to the boundary and the remaining 63 runs came in only five overs.

Wells clobbered two sixes over mid-wicket in making 33 off 18 balls and Peng, driving powerfully, had ten fours in his 66 off 58 balls.

With a stiff breeze at his back, Shoaib bowled perhaps his quickest spell for Durham and began by beating Andrew Strauss for pace in his second over. James Dalrymple's stumps were even more spectacularly splattered by a perfect yorker as the Pakistani finished with four for 21 in his six overs.

A measure of his pace was that a ball flew off the shoulder of David Nash's defensive bat over first slip and all but carried for six.

Whether or not this proves to be Shoaib's farewell appearance depends on finance. He has indicated his willingness to return, but the figure suggested by his agent is currently beyond the county's resources.

He need not have played yesterday as there was nothing at stake for Durham and they were considering handing a first team debut to Graeme Onions, who has taken 32 wickets in the Second X1 Championship this season.

He had to settle for being 12th man, with the only selection surprise being the recall of Andrew Pratt at the expense of Phil Mustard. There was a good case for doing this several weeks ago. Mustard's initial form with the bat was encouraging, but once it started to decline his glovework also became increasingly messy and Pratt's work yesterday was of a notably higher standard.

Heavy overnight rain delayed the start by two hours and Jon Lewis's decision to put Middlesex in was quickly vindicated by Shoaib and Neil Killeen.

Facing the wind, Killeen delivered a mixed bag which included four wides.

He was also pulled for six by left-hander Ben Hutton in his sixth and final over but still finished with three for 16.

Killeen struck first in the second over, with left-hander Paul Weekes looking suspiciously at the pitch as extra bounce induced a catch at backward point.

After all the problems left-handers have caused Durham this season three fell in five balls with Shoaib removing the next two. Strauss was bowled then a brute of a ball lobbed off the shoulder of Ed Joyce's bat and Wells dived to his right at second slip to hold the catch.

Killeen looked mortified when an appeal for lbw against Owais Shah was turned down, but the former England man was caught behind without addition.

Killeen also had Nash caught down the leg side by Pratt off what might otherwise have been a wide, and the early carnage was completed by Simon Cook edging Shoaib to Wells.

Cook made 67 not out at Lord's early last month when Middlesex recovered from 38 for five against Durham to reach 210 for eight and win by seven runs.

They didn't have time for a repeat yesterday, although the instant relief when Shoaib's spell ended allowed Hutton and Chad Keegan to put on 80 before Keegan was brilliantly caught at long-off by Shoaib in the 29th over.

He made it look easy as he moved five yards to his left and reached out to hold the fiercely-struck blow at head height.

Only one came off the over, to leave Graeme Bridge with one for 11 in five, and the only expensive bowler was Paul Collingwood, who conceded 18 in the 28th over, which included a huge six over long-off by Keegan.

Hutton played very sensibly and also struck several high-class shots in remaining unbeaten on 43.

* Martin Love was yesterday named Goldsmith's Player of the Month for September after making 84 at Northampton and 98 and 97 against Gloucestershire at Bristol.

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