Benkenstein steers Durham home
Durham served further notice of their LV= County Championship title credentials with a five-wicket win over Lancashire that extended their lead at the top to 23 points.
The visitors overcame the occasional bout of nerves at Aigburth to wrap up victory midway through the third afternoon, thanks once again to another splendid innings from Dale Benkenstein.
The former skipper’s unbeaten 60 carried Durham, who resumed on 27 for three, to a tricky target of 181, and rightly won him more of the plaudits that came his way after his unbeaten 83 in the first innings.
He was unquestionably the difference between the sides in a contest that may well prove pivotal in the title race.
Benkenstein completed the chase in the company of Ian Blackwell, who contributed 26 not out to an unbroken sixth-wicket stand of 81, having watched Paul Collingwood continue his impressive return to county cricket with 45 and Will Smith make a painstaking 30.
Each of them played a key role in repelling a Lancashire side that showed commendable spirit, not only today but ever since they were bowled out for 84 on the first day.
Unfortunately for the majority of a sizeable crowd who enjoyed the generous offer of free entry on another sun-drenched day, Lancashire’s catching – with the exception of Steven Croft, who took his seemingly obligatory stunner – let them down.
Collingwood and Blackwell were both reprieved early in their innings, although the nerveless Benkenstein offered no such chances as Durham inflicted a second defeat this month on their closest rivals for the title.
Given that Benkenstein hit 137 in the innings victory at the Emirates Durham ICG, Lancashire must be sick of the sight of him.
The late cut for four off Gary Keedy that sealed a sixth win of the season for Durham also took him to 1,000 championship runs for the summer, second only to Marcus Trescothick. It was a fitting end to an enthralling game, and Benkenstein has now scored more first-class runs than any other player in Durham's history.
If Lancashire were ultimately left to rue their first-innings capitulation, they may come to look back on those two drops today as more damaging to morale.
The first was offered by Collingwood, who had 21 to his name when he edged a drive off Kyle Hogg. Paul Horton shelled a sharp chance low to his right at first slip.
Hogg’s drop at fine-leg to spare Blackwell on 13 was altogether simpler, yet it came at a more critical juncture given that it would have left Durham 123 for six – needing a further 58 to win in conditions which kept the seamers interested throughout.
While Collingwood failed to capitalise fully on his let-off, he was largely responsible for extending his second-wicket partnership with Smith to 58 before he was superbly held by Croft, driving to his right at third slip, off Luke Procter’s second ball.
It took the obdurate Smith more than 10 overs to score the two runs that took him into double figures from his overnight score, and in total he had spent almost two and a half hours making 30 by the time he was lbw playing back in Gary Keedy’s first over.
Blackwell rode his luck either side of lunch, surviving a run-out chance on four as he chased a single to Procter at cover before top-edging a pull off Mahmood to the wasteful Hogg.
But the scoreboard rarely stays still while the left-hander is at the crease, and Benkenstein’s willingness to take on the short ball helped whittle down the target to manageable proportions.
Struck on the helmet by a Junaid Khan bouncer, Blackwell was content to let his partner do the bulk of the scoring thereafter.
Benkenstein twice bunted Keedy over mid-on as he went to an 81-ball half-century, and drove the same bowler through extra-cover for four before applying the coup de grâce.