Riverside gloom rescues Durham
Reigning champions Durham needed plenty of backs-to-the-wall defiance, and some help from above, to eke out a draw against promoted Essex in the LV= County Championship at the Riverside.
A record 212-run third-wicket stand between Michael Di Venuto and Dale Benkenstein, who both fell agonisingly in sight of their hundreds, and half-centuries from Ian Blackwell and Phil Mustard shored Durham up to 352 for seven.
They had inched 66 runs in front by the time rain and bad light closed in for the second time to take out 34 overs and compromise Essex’s bowling options on the final evening.
Durham therefore did not suffer a first home defeat since June 2008 in this opening match of their Division One campaign.
But four points were nonetheless the sum total of their efforts - hardly a portentous start in pursuit of a third successive title.
Tim Phillips’ four wickets helped to keep Durham in trouble, after they had made much of it for themselves by losing nine wickets and stumbling to four for two following on during a calamitous afternoon yesterday.
The slow left-armer dismissed Di Venuto and Benkenstein in the half hour before lunch today, and again struck in successive overs this afternoon.
Di Venuto and Benkenstein had reprised their partnership for another 90 minutes until Phillips struck for the first time.
Benkenstein, who edged Chris Wright just short of Alastair Cook at first slip on 63, managed only a single in the first eight overs. But he then crunched a pull off Wright for six into the members’ stand.
The former captain was also hit on the helmet when Graham Napier got a short ball to follow him.
Like Di Venuto, though, Benkenstein kept chipping away the arrears - mostly through a packed and unorthodox leg-side field Napier had devised to snare him.
Progress became serene for the two Durham lynchpins, and a century for each seemed close on inevitable until Benkenstein lifted a drive at Phillips to a short mid-off two short.
Two overs later, Di Venuto pushed out at one that did not turn and edged to slip one run closer to the landmark.
At least one more partnership of substance would therefore be needed to keep Essex at bay, and the first to try were Ben Stokes and Blackwell.
The latter began with a crunching extra-cover drive for four first ball and another swept boundary in the same Phillips over.
But Stokes pulled Ryan ten Doeschate tamely to midwicket to leave his team-mates with a fair bit of hard work still to do.
All went well again for the hosts, though, for most of the afternoon as Blackwell and Mustard’s fifties threatened to make the game safe.
The second new ball brought 36 runs and no wickets in 10 overs. Blackwell shared a stand of 82 with Mustard until, under increasingly gloomy skies, he found himself trooping off for 52 with much self-admonishment after somehow allowing a ball from Phillips to trickle down off his forward defensive bat to hit the bottom of leg-stump and dislodge one bail.
In Phillips’ next over, umpire Richard Kettleborough decided Liam Plunkett had to go lbw for a duck - pushing a long way forward to a well-directed delivery.
But Mustard was still up for the fight and completed his 79-ball half-century with his ninth boundary.
His strokeplay in an unbeaten 60 was a major asset in a situation where runs were as precious as overs ticked off.
With forecast rain arriving, the umpires ordered the players off for what became an early tea.
A temporary improvement in the weather allowed Essex back on for just five overs - and they were robbed of their shot at a notable win to follow last week’s success at home to Hampshire.