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April 28, 2009
Durham 372 for 6 (Benkenstein 110*) v Somerset
For the neutral it would have been ideal to watch Steve Harmison bowl on a green-tinged Taunton surface, but there was no final opportunity for him to nudge the England selectors as Durham reached 372 for 6 after being put in to bat. Dale Benkenstein, settling into life back in the ranks, was unbeaten on 110 but the late removal of Ian Blackwell, returning to his former club, and nightwatchman Graham Onions gave Somerset a boost.
After guiding Durham to the Championship last year, Benkenstein felt his captaincy role was complete and handed over control to Will Smith. However, he remains a vital figure in the middle order - particularly while Shivnarnie Chanderpaul is on international duty - and ensured the defending champions gave themselves a strong opening day. His hundred came off 153 balls and it would be a brave person to say it will be the only century in this game.
Benkenstein and Blackwell were taking the game away from Somerset with a stand of 81 during the final session. Blackwell had reached a positive half century, warmly applauded by the local fans who remember him fondly, when he drove a low full toss to extra cover three overs before the close. Then, in the final over of the day, Onions dragged a pull into his stumps and life wasn't looking quite so bad for the home side.
It was a brave decision by Justin Langer to stick the opposition in despite the appearance of the pitch, especially as when he did it two weeks ago Warwickshire racked up 500, but he wasn't supported by his bowlers or his fielders. However, it was asking a lot of an injury-depleted attack without the services of Andy Caddick, Ben Phillips (the best bowler against Warwickshire) and Mark Turner. The bowlers were no doubt grateful for the recent heavy rain in the South West which knocked a few runs off the total.
A better attack would surely have made more of the morning advantage and the visiting quartet, including Harmison and Onions, are one of the strongest on the circuit. That may have played a part in Langer's decision to bowl, but he was quickly left frustrated by his own attack's lack of direction.
Michael Di Venuto and Mark Stoneman scored at more than a run-a-minute in the first hour, helped a regular supply of short, wide offerings particularly from Alfonso Thomas and David Stiff. It wasn't until Charl Willoughby changed ends shortly before lunch that Somerset gained some control. He and Peter Trego slowed the scoring before Willoughby encouraged Di Venuto to push away from his body although the chance nearly went begging. The edge flew at an awkward chest-height to Langer at first slip, who could only palm it away, but fortunately Marcus Trescothick was alert at second to snap up the rebound.
Somerset's best passage of play came shortly after lunch as Thomas trapped Will Smith leg before with a ball that nipped back and then Stiff, who showed some promise amid a fair share of loose bowling, produced a good one that nipped off the seam to take Stoneman's outside edge.
However, that was the last success for a while as Benkenstein and Gordon Muchall firstly consolidated then capitalised with a stand of 166. Both, though, were given early lives as Craig Kieswetter spilled a regulation edge off Muchall and Trescothick dropped Benkenstein diving to his right at second slip. Muchall was well set and the bowling was unthreatening when he came down the pitch to Omari Banks and miscued a lofted drive to cover. It was a shot which showed why Muchall's career average is 28 and not 38.
Blackwell was soon into his stride against the old ball, driving confidently down the ground, as Benkenstein continued along his merry way in a calm and measured manner. Trego's late strikes took some of the gloss off Durham's day, but they will be confident that their attack will cause more problems when they get a turn.
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