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Sussex 214 & 15-2 Durham 301 <i>(Durham lead by 72 runs)</i>: Benkenstein and Smith give Sussex a headache

In mid-afternoon yesterday Durham lost their sixth wicket with the score on 235. There was immediately some speculation about whether they had compiled one of the lowest totals of all time to include a double-century partnership, a discussion which gathered momentum at 267 for 9.

This was delightful evidence of the game's perennial ability to provide statistical gems. The stand which led to it was delightful too, containing as it did two thoroughly pleasing innings.

Both Dale Benkenstein and Will Smith scored their first hundreds of the season. If Benkenstein's was the more comfortable and predictable, Smith's was the more important, coming as it did in his first championship match since last July.

They came together with last year's runners-up in a spot of bother at 11 for 4 against the champions. They effected a significant recovery which allowed an important lead, the sunshine having removed the demons from the moist pitch of the previous morning.

It was not quite chanceless and Durham would have been right in it had Carl Hopkinson not spilled a straightforward offering at first slip off Corey Collymore when Smith was but five.

Smith was no doubt helped by the presence of his captain, Benkenstein who is a commanding figure, utterly instrumental in Durham becoming a force in the land. The meagre nine fours contained in his innings did not reflect his assertiveness.

Smith is probably drinking in the last chance saloon. Dropped mid-season in 2007, this was his first championship hundred for Durham, his fourth in all.

On this evidence Sussex may struggle to retain their title. Their slip catching was aberrant throughout and there were signs that Mushtaq Ahmed, who took his 1,400th first-class wicket, is not in the best of order. Having conceded a deficit of 87, they were 15 for 2 by the close, with Stephen Harmison bowling like the wind again.

Harmison had already helped Durham extend the lead, sharing a lively last-wicket stand of 34 with his brother, Ben, that must have irritated Sussex as much as it did those fond of numerical nuggets. For the record, Benkenstein and Smith added 205, the rest contributed 96.