Somerset frustrated by Benkenstein
Somerset 132 for 2 v Durham
The weather was always likely to have a say in the Championship race. With Nottinghamshire stuck in the pavilion at Old Trafford, Somerset knew they could make up ground on the leaders but were also frustrated until mid-afternoon at Chester-le-Street. They will have been equally disappointed by a return of two wickets in the 40 overs of play possible as Dale Benkenstein dominated an unbroken third-wicket stand of 99 with Gordon Muchall.
Somerset can quite rightly claim to be the team of the season having reached the Friends Provident t20 and CB40 finals, the latter still to be played on Saturday, while maintaining their title challenge to end. For a squad without huge depth, especially in pace bowling which will be boosted next season by the arrival of Steve Kirby, that is a fine effort but they won't remember the campaign fondly unless they secure at least one piece of silverware.
However, competing on all fronts means a team has to battle the fixture list. These two sides, with ECB approval, agreed to play four extra overs on the first three days so that Somerset can leave in time to catch a flight to London on Thursday evening to prepare for the CB40 final at Lord's.
That means 60 overs have already been lost and with Somerset ideally needing a maximum 24 points they need to ensure the game progresses at a good pace. It was a brave decision by Phil Mustard, the Durham captain, to bat first. The pitch was used for the one-day international three days ago and was full of runs that day, but the overhead conditions and morning rain meant there was always going to be assistance for the pace bowlers.
Charl Willoughby found swing in his first over and Michael Di Venuto edged short of third slip then two overs later saw another nick fly wide of the cordon which was then immediately strengthened by Marcus Trescothick. Willoughby strayed a couple of times against Michael Stoneman, but then found the perfect line outside off to remove the left hander as he edged through to Craig Kieswetter.
Ben Phillips was economical during his opening spell and in his fourth over removed Di Venuto lbw although there was some doubt as to whether the ball pitched outside leg stump. Di Venuto has been Durham's leading batsman this season - although no one in the side has passed 1000 runs - and it was a valuable wicket for Somerset.
After tea Alfonso Thomas bowled a wonderful and, somehow, unrewarded spell when he beat both batsmen repeatedly but couldn't find the edge. He has taken more than 100 wickets across all formats this season, enough to earn him one of Trescothick's bats after a pre-season bet, being outstanding during the Friends Provident t20 and has been a key part of helping Somerset to CB40 final.
He will bowl much worse than he did here and collect a bag of wickets. Benkenstein was beaten five times in two overs and in the first eight overs after the interval only seven runs were added with Peter Trego also proving hard to score off. The stranglehold was broken when Benkenstein seized on some width from Trego to cut him through point. Benkenstein, the former Durham captain who led the county to their first Championship title two years ago, dominated the scoring as his earlier hard work began to pay dividends.
He passed fifty off 77 balls with a trio of shots behind square on the off side while in comparison Muchall struggled painfully, not collecting his first boundary until the 100th ball he faced when he pulled Trego through midwicket. As the sun broke through the pitch looked flat, but Somerset will want clear skies in the morning. And a few quick wickets.
Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at Cricinfo