Lancashire have played one match fewer than Durham, so the idea that this contest might determine the outcome of the Championship before the end of June is absurd. Yet the champions of 2008 and 2009 have a lead of 23 points and have beaten Lancashire twice, which is saying something.
The odds were against the home side. Teams bowled out for 84 in their first innings rarely win. Yet they sniffed a chance yesterday morning, when Durham arrived three down overnight and with 154 of the 181 runs needed still to get. The scene was set for a gripping conclusion and after a fashion it produced one, even though the five-wicket winning margin might seem to suggest a degree of comfort.
At first, it seemed as though Paul Collingwood, delighted to have rediscovered his form and "pleasantly surprised" with how much he is enjoying being a Durham player again, would follow his century against Yorkshire with another match-winning hundred. He had been given a chance on 21, put down by Paul Horton at first slip off Kyle Hogg, but that apart reached 45 in relative comfort.
Hogg and Saj Mahmood had run in well without much luck. But then bowling changes brought wickets. Luke Procter took over from Mahmood at the river end and struck with his second ball, Collingwood falling to a catch he might have made himself, in his prime, when Steven Croft clung on unexpectedly at third slip. When Gary Keedy then replaced Procter, he needed only two balls to trap Will Smith leg before.
Five down, still 99 short, the pressure was back on Durham. But their strength lies in their depth of experience and no one puts it to better use than Dale Benkenstein, the 37-year-old South African, whose form this season has been so consistent that in only five of his 15 innings in the Championship has he scored fewer than 50.
His superb, rock-steady unbeaten 83 on the first day here – when 20 wickets fell, in case you'd forgotten – was the innings that set up the win and he finished it with 60 not out yesterday, in the course of which he completed 1,000 first-class runs for the season and overtook Jon Lewis's tally of 7,854 to become Durham's all-time highest runscorer. Lancashire had other chances, notably when Ian Blackwell, who had made 14 of his 26, was badly dropped at long leg by Hogg, at which point Durham would have been six down and still 53 away from victory.
Yet Mark Chilton, standing in for the injured – and missed – Glen Chapple as captain, readily acknowledged that Benkenstein had been the key.
"We were well in the game until with 50 runs left we missed a run-out chance and a catch but you have to say that Dale was a huge factor," Chilton said. "His 83 in the first innings was exceptional and his innings today saw them home in a pressure situation."
Benkenstein, typically, received the plaudits in graceful modesty. "In some ways, when everyone else is getting out it frees you up a bit, because nobody can complain if you get out too," he said. "And you know me, I always play in the same boring way. I don't change. I try to hit the bad balls and when you get a good one you hope you don't nick it."Reuse content