Lancashire 357 Hampshire 174-3: Benham marks his return by restoring hope to Hampshire

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The race for the County Championship remains so tightly bunched that it would not be entirely daft to describe some teams as relegation-threatened title contenders. Hampshire's position at the bottom of the table, however, looks less ambiguous than most.

Yet they have found a bit of fight here at the moment it seemed another match might be slipping away. Lancashire, 183 in front, still hold the upper hand but they were frustrated for more than three hours yesterday as Michael Brown and Chris Benham found the kind of hard-nosed stubbornness their team's situation required.

The two batsmen came together at 35 for 3, at which point Hampshire's failure to see off Lancashire's tail must have felt particularly exasperating. By the close they had swelled the total by 139, not without alarm but with wickets intact.

Benham will have drawn particular satisfaction from his effort. Out of the side since May, he has been recalled at the expense of Michael Carberry, who has managed only 12 runs in his last five innings. Until yesterday, Benham did not have a first-class fifty in more than a year but Hampshire were clearly right to take note of his 114 for the second XI last week.

He is on 70 while Brown, Burnley-born and once a home-town club-mate of Lancashire's James Anderson, has his eyes on a second hundred of the season after reaching 75. A largely unresponsive pitch and an injury to Glenn Chapple has not helped the home side, although both batsmen could have gone in the last five overs. Lancashire thought they had Brown caught at short gully for 74 when he reverse-swept the spinner, Gary Keedy. Adamant the ball had touched neither bat nor glove on its way into Francois du Plessis' hands, Brown stood his ground. Umpire John Steele agreed with him.

Then, as Sajid Mahmood built a head of steam at the Stretford End in the next over, Benham, on 65, edged between wicketkeeper and first slip.

Earlier, Hampshire thought they might keep Lancashire's total to around 300 when Du Plessis, the fourth of his team to pass 50 but not go on, perished at 294 for 8. Yet the last two wickets added 63, thanks largely to Dominic Cork's aggressive 35, before the leg-spinner Imran Tahir took his Hampshire debut haul to five wickets, a feat he has achieved in first-class cricket for eight of the 13 domestic sides he has represented.

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