Lancashire's number looks up as Stokes shows brutal power

Lancashire 313 & 69-3 Durham 586
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Impressive statistics do not necessarily equate to titles, yet after the eighth match of a Durham season in which they look to have increasingly good prospects of winning the Championship for the third time in four years, their batting averages are worth a look.

These show that five of their batsman have scored 539 runs or more in the competition, with another not far behind on 456. Given that the merit mark for a decent season with the blade is 1,000 – and given that there are another eight matches to come – the numbers are impressive reading.

Dale Benkenstein needs only 145 more to get there with considerable time to spare, with Ben Stokes boasting the next highest aggregate on 609. As it happens, the two have scored 322 between them in this match (so far), the majority during a monumental stand of 331 that eclipsed one Durham record and fell just short of passing another.

It was the biggest partnership for any wicket since Durham joined the Championship, overtaking that set by Benkenstein and Ottis Gibson, when they put on 315 for the seventh wicket at Headingley in 2006, a result that saved Durham from relegation.

One more boundary and it would have displaced the 334 by Stewart Hutton and Mike Roseberry against Oxford University in 1996 as Durham's highest partnership in first-class cricket. Not that anyone was suggesting this was a mark against them. It was more than enough to leave Lancashire in serious danger of surrendering the First Division's only unbeaten record, and to gain Stokes more admirers.

The young man will shed his teenage status on Saturday but, you hope, none of his free spirit. Hitting balls over the pavilion here – 11 rows of seats, an eight-foot wall and two storeys above that – was the preserve only of Kevin Pietersen before yesterday, apparently – but Stokes, with two mighty sweeps against Steven Croft's off breaks, did it twice.

He was bowled attempting a third but could hardly be chastised for that. He had turned his third century of the season into a career-best 185 and while he should have been out at least once, the striking feature of the innings was its maturity.

Durham are in control, a breezy 63-ball 61 from Phil Mustard (whose average is a dizzy 122.00) left Lancashire with a deficit of 273 and they have lost three wickets in reducing it by 69, two to the impressive Graham Onions. In survival terms, their numbers do not look so good.