Unsung Durham stars shine

Warwickshire 135 Durham 173-4

It was not difficult to see why Durham are now compelling favourites to retain the County Championship title while Warwickshire, promoted last season, will consider themselves to have done well if they avoid going straight back down.

The Midlands team, without both Jonathan Trott and Ian Bell because of England's needs at The Oval, performed as might have been expected from a side deprived of its two best batsman.

Durham, on the other hand, coped with the absence of Steve Harmison, Graham Onions and Paul Collingwood as if it were merely incidental. Harmison and Onions have 89 Championship wickets between them and Durham are expecting at least one of them back here at some point today but they can manage perfectly well without them.

So well, in fact, that even though they lost another line of attack when Mark Davies, after bowling two overs, left the field suffering back spasms, they dismissed Warwickshire, who had chosen to bat first, for 135. They will resume today with the makings of a workable first-innings lead, having overcome a few hiccups last night to close 38 in front.

The absence of Onions and Harmison from England's one-day squads will be a relief for Durham but they are about more than star names. They are more about players such as Callum Thorp and Dale Benkenstein, both sound, unfussy cricketers ready to respond to the requirements of the job. It was Thorp who galvanised Durham yesterday. Exploiting good conditions for swing, the 34-year-old Australian-born seamer took 5-49, the first four of his victims all falling leg before wicket to in-ducking deliveries.

Benkenstein was even more impressive. Only occasionally asked to bowl his wobbly medium-pace, he responded to the loss of Davies by filling in with eight overs at the Lumley End, finding good away movement to take 3-20, his best figures for three years.

When Durham batted, Shivnarine Chanderpaul marked his return to the county with a sixth-ball duck but Benkenstein stepped up again with a patient unbeaten 59 as he and a more explosive Ian Blackwell stewarded a recovery from 97-4.