Benkenstein saves Durham

Durham 318-7 v Sussex
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The Independent Online

The Durham batsman Dale Benkenstein is no journeyman, his priceless century was eloquent proof of that yesterday when he pulled the reigning county champions back from the brink of disaster.

But "journeyman" is the label Benkenstein and his Durham team-mates are in danger of being given following the crazy schedule that has been organised for them during these early stages of their title defence.

On 27 April they had hauled themselves down to Taunton, returning home at 2am on 2 May with a second successive draw to their name; two days ago they flew to Gatwick from Newcastle, thence to Hove for the start of this match; on 9 May they are off to Bristol, heading back to Hove two days later for another one-dayer.

Once that match is over they head up to Leeds on 12 May, where they tackle Yorkshire the following day and 24 hours later they descend on London and a one-day game at The Oval, heading back to Riverside at the end of the game against Surrey.

It sounds exhausting, but Benkenstein, one of Wisden's Five Cricketers of the Year for 2008, is clearly up for the long haul, and his occupation of the crease yesterday was almost as valuable as his runs. He was an immovable object for more than four and three quarter hours as he repeated his feat of last season, when he also scored a century on this ground – his only three-figure innings of the 2008 championship.

He had come into this match on the back of a very big hundred against Somerset and was in form, but he was not without luck, having been dropped on 19 by Ollie Rayner at second slip off the bowling of Robin Martin-Jenkins.

Benkenstein, who was out shortly before the close, caught in the deep to give Damien Wright his third wicket of the innings and the 300th of his first class career. Benkenstein received useful support from the fast bowler Liam Plunkett, who could reasonably have been expected to cause some damage with the ball, but yesterday posed problems with the bat by becoming Durham's second highest scorer of the day and passing 50 for only the seventh time in his career.

Their 148-run seventh-wicket stand realised three vital batting bonus points, but more importantly had dragged Durham back into a game that they had looked out of reach after losing their first five wickets with barely 100 runs on the board.

Only Gordon Muchall, who chipped in with 24 in a fourth-wicket partnership of 60 and then the wicketkeeper Phil Mustard, who contributed 32 to a sixth-wicket stand of 58, had provided the South African with any kind of top order support.

The rest of the batting was patchy and the Sussex attack benefited, with Martin-Jenkins producing the odd unplayable delivery, weighing in with two wickets.