Benkenstein shows his class
Dale Benkenstein kept his head as wickets tumbled around him to put Durham in charge on day one of the top-of-the-table LV=County Championship Division One clash with Lancashire.
On a remarkable day at Aigburth, Lancashire were asked to bat by Durham skipper Phil Mustard and dismissed for 84 in bowler-friendly conditions, before reducing the leaders to 114 for eight at tea.
But given able support by Graham Onions in a 79-run ninth-wicket stand, Benkenstein fashioned a defiant unbeaten 83 in a total of 186. Lancashire were four without loss after three balls of their second innings when bad light brought a premature close.
Despite the incessant clatter of wickets, ECB pitch liaison officer Peter Walker said he found no problems with the playing surface, insisting it was “as good a pitch as I have seen”.
Callum Thorp was Durham’s hero with the ball, returning figures of 6-20 as muggy heat and a wicket with a greenish hue made seam bowling an enjoyable pastime.
However, Steve Harmison twice fired five wides down the leg side in his opening over. After repeating the trick once more, his final wides count of 16 was the second highest contributor to the Lancashire score after Stephen Moore’s 27 at the top of the innings.
Sitting seven points behind their opponents at the start of play but with a game in hand, Lancashire got off to the worst possible start.
Paul Horton was dismissed without scoring in the first over after Onions nipped one back into his pads, laying the foundations for Thorp to go to work.
The Perth-born 36-year-old opened up with three maidens before having Karl Brown, Mark Chilton and Steven Croft caught behind by Mustard for single-figure scores to leave Lancashire reeling on 37 for four.
After Thorp’s unrelenting opening burst of 3-15 from 10 overs, Benkenstein’s medium pace was introduced and the South African produced a full, straight delivery to trap Luke Procter lbw.
Moore hooked the wayward Harmison for six but perished chasing a wide one outside off stump from the same bowler, giving Mustard his fourth catch in the 25th over.
Teetering on 71 for six at lunch, Thorp returned after the interval to make short work of the Lancashire tail.
Gareth Cross and debutant Junaid Khan, who opened his championship account with a duck, were snared by Paul Collingwood and Michael Di Venuto at first and second slip respectively to bring up Thorp’s first five-wicket haul since 2009.
Between those dismissals Sajid Mahmood went for 14, top-edging a return catch to Onions, before Thorp wrapped things up by uprooting Kyle Hogg’s off stump.
Durham’s response merely continued the carnage. Openers Will Smith and Michael Di Venuto were lbw to Hogg for nought and one respectively.
Collingwood clinically punched Junaid through extra-cover for four, but then played an uncharacteristic stroke to top-edge Mahmood to Gary Keedy at mid-on.
A mini-collapse followed. Junaid claimed his maiden Lancashire wicket as Gordon Muchall wafted airily to be caught behind for 28 and Mahmood produced searing pace and late movement to tear out Ian Blackwell’s off stump then trap Mustard lbw.
Benkenstein survived to watch the slump to 61 for six from the other end despite playing and missing regularly. Deciding attack was the best form of defence, he and Scott Borthwick put Durham ahead with a brisk stand of 41 from 32 balls.
Borthwick and Thorp then perished in the cordon to successive balls from Procter, before Onions joined Benkenstein to thwart the hat-trick and put Durham in charge after tea.
Benkenstein shook off a blow from an accidental Mahmood beamer to send the same bowler to the midwicket fence and bring up his fifty off 88 balls.
By the time Horton took a sharp chance at slip off Procter to dismiss Onions for a gutsy 21, Durham were just shy of a 100 run lead - a landmark reached before Harmison was bowled by Keedy without scoring, leaving Benkenstein 17 short of his fifth championship century this season.