A TRIO of career-best scores from emerging players helped Durham weather the expected trial by spin as they reached 352 at Northampton yesterday.

Gary Pratt made 78, Ian Hunter 65 and Marc Symington 42, with Hunter's stand of 81 with Danny Law halting the decline from 133 for one to 217 for six.

All those wickets fell to off-spin, four of them claimed by Graeme Swann, who bowled unchanged for 53 overs in tandem with Jason Brown.

Although both turned the ball from the suspiciously roughed-up patches at either end of the pitch, it could be argued that it simply made for a more even contest between bat and ball than has generally been the case at run-laden Wantage Road.

Symington faced spin throughout his innings and played it very well - certainly with more assurance than Nicky Peng, who looked very uncertain early on.

There was time for one over, a maiden from Neil Killeen, in Northants' reply before bad light ended play and with more rain forecast today Durham will be struggling to achieve that elusive first championship win.

Durham were 264 for six after 90 overs when the new ball was taken, and initially the return to pace allowed Hunter and Law to prosper.

But then Darren Cousins earned two edged catches and Hunter got carried away after hooking him for his third six and driving the next ball past mid-off for four.

That took him past his previous best, the 62 he made on debut against Leicestershire at the Riverside two years ago. But he drove the next ball into mid-off's hands.

The best innings was played by Pratt, who also hooked Cousins for six to reach his second half-century off 81 balls.

At that point he had made 53 out of 73, having continued to heavily outscore his out-of-touch captain when Durham resumed on 34 for none.

Pratt pulled the day's second ball for four then cracked Cousins' next delivery to the cover boundary off the back foot.

Jon Lewis had added only one before he fell in the fifth over, departing reluctantly when again given out caught behind by Trevor Jesty.

This could, however, have been a measure of his disappointment as in ten innings as an opener this season he has a top score of 22, his 71 at Lord's coming when he batted at five.

Pratt drove successive balls from Tony Penberthy through extra cover for four, the second bringing comical cries of "catch it" as it was only three inches off the ground and five yards wide of any fielder.

Gordon Muchall made an uncertain start as he was beaten several times by Cousins, but an all-run four to long-off, followed by a glorious cut off Penberthy got him moving.

The run rate slowed when the spinners came on, but both batsmen tried to stay positive, which led to their downfall.

Muchall was trying to drive Brown when he got an inside edge on to his pad and was caught at short leg for 33 and three balls later Pratt tried to cut Swann and chopped the ball into his stumps. He hit 11 fours in his 115-ball knock.

Peng was almost bowled on one and two by Swann, and on 11 he edged Brown between wicketkeeper and slip.

But Symington twice drove Swann handsomely through the covers for four and also turned him off the back foot to the mid-wicket boundary.

Peng was just beginning to look settled when he went to drive Swann and edged to slip, and without addition Andrew Pratt got a leading edge to mid-off when trying to hit Swann to mid-wicket.

Pratt has played most of his best innings when taking a long time to get off the mark, but here, as at Worcester, he paid for his impatience.

Symington became Swann's fourth victim when he pushed forward and edged to slip and Hunter lived a little dangerously early on, slicing two drives just out of the reach of fielders.

But just before the new ball was taken he drove Swann over mid-off for four and followed it with a straight six, and the boundaries continued to flow when the pacemen returned.

Hunter picked up Cousins over square leg for six, but in the last over before tea Law ducked into a shortish ball from Carl Greenidge and was hit on the helmet.

He added only five more before playing back defensively to a ball from Cousins which left him and found the edge.

Graeme Bridge suffered a similar fate, then Hunter, whose runs came off 68 balls, swiftly followed.

But Nicky Phillips contributed an unbeaten 22 to a last wicket stand of 31 with Neil Killeen, which ensured a fourth batting point before the spinners returned and Brown turned one sharply to have Killeen lbw on the back foot.