Benkenstein seals crucial victory
Durham 186 and 182 for 5 beat Lancashire 84 and 282 by five wickets
Given Lancashire's game in hand, talk of this match being a title decider is premature at best and actually a little absurd. What victory has done for Durham, though, if you were to think of the Championship as a horse race, is to take them a couple of lengths clear at just the moment the pace is hotting up, which means that Lancashire cannot really afford to falter.
The home side sniffed a chance overnight. Three wickets lost in 10 overs on Tuesday evening certainly discomfited Durham, leaving them to troop up on the third morning with still 154 to get of the 181 needed to win, and not much room for error.
It required a steady, unflappable attitude, for there would be more setbacks, inevitably. Yet, as predicted, the depth of Durham's batting saw them home. Dale Benkenstein, whose steady hand guided them to a 102-run lead on that bizarre, 20-wicket first day, supplemented his 83 not out with an unbeaten 60.
Benkenstein, 37, is having a remarkable season. In 15 Championship innings he has four centuries and has failed to reach 50 on only five occasions. He made 137 in Durham's win over Lancashire at Chester-le-Street, which means has scored 280 against them in three innings for once out.
In this innings, as impervious to pressure, seemingly, as he had been in the first innings, he passed 1,000 first-class runs for the season and overtook Jon Lewis's mark of 7,854 to become Durham's all-time leading scorer.
Winning by five wickets suggests a degree of comfort in the end for Durham but there had been some tension along the way, as you suspected there would be.
At first, it seemed as though Paul Collingwood, thrilled to have found some form with the bat and "pleasantly surprised" at how much he is enjoying being a Durham player again, would follow his century against Yorkshire with another match-winning hundred.
Only too eager to confirm afterwards, after scratching around so much during his last year as a Test player, that he felt as comfortable as he ever has with bat in hand, Collingwood looked in complete control. He had a life on 21, put down by Paul Horton at first slip off Kyle Hogg, but that apart reached 45 in relative comfort.
Hogg and Mahmood had both run in well without enjoying much luck. But how often is it that a bowling change brings a wicket? Luke Procter gave Mahmood a breather at the river end and struck with his second ball, Collingwood falling to a catch he might have made himself, in his prime.
Collingwood went for a drive as if he was sure it would come off the middle of the bat but edged it instead, whereupon Steven Croft flung himself to his right at third slip and clung on spectacularly. Likewise, when Gary Keedy then replaced Procter, he needed only two balls to trap Will Smith leg before.
So, five down, still 99 short, the pressure was back on Durham. But the depth of their batting allows for setbacks where in other teams they might induce a fatal attack of nerves.
And few batsman put experience to better use than Benkenstein. 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 the role that Benkenstein had played in putting his side in their place for the second time.
"Dale played really well," Chilton said. "He is in fantastic nick, as he showed up at the Riverside. His 83 in the first innings was exceptional and his innings today saw them home in a pressure situation.
"We felt in the game this morning and on another day could have had three wickets in the first hour with Saj and Kyle bowling very well. We were well in the game but then with 50 runs left we missed a run-out chance and a catch and then they put a good partnership together to see them home."
Benkenstein's sixth and seventh boundaries completed the job, a little before a quarter to three. Typically, he accepted the applause with self-deprecating modesty.
"Sometimes it frees you up when you bat in a situation like that and others are being drawn into making mistakes," he said. "It takes the pressure off because if you fail it does not really matter whereas if everyone is scoring hundreds you feel you should do as well.
"I only play one way and my approach does not change. I'm pretty boring, I stick to the same things. If I see a bad ball I hit it. You just hope for a bit of luck and that when you get a good ball you miss it."
Chilton, quite rightly, said that Lancashire need only to keep winning to make sure that Durham remain under pressure to keep winning too but there is an ominous confidence about the leaders.
"We don't want to get ahead of ourselves," Collingwood said. "There are things we can improve on but we'd like to feel our brand of attacking cricket will be good enough for most sides."
Benkenstein echoed that assessment, even going a little further. "I think that the experience we have, the old heads who know the situations and what it takes to win matches will be crucial in terms of the championship. We have a good balance, with some enthusiastic young guys as well. In terms of batting I think this is as good a side as we have had."