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Myles Hodgson at Chester-le-Street
Durham 119 for 4 (Benkenstein 40*) trail Surrey 129 (Stokes 4-40) by 10 runs
Cricket often rewards those who are prepared to gamble at crucial times, but Surrey's bold decision at the toss of their key match against one of their biggest relegation rivals may prove a turning point in their battle to remain in Division One. Choosing to bat first in bowler-friendly conditions, the scoreboard would suggest it backfired spectacularly to hand Durham a considerable advantage.
Dismissed for only 129 in 48.3 overs on a wicket that was damp enough for groundstaff to be still mopping up minutes before the start, the decision to bat suggested a major error of judgement. Yet after losing four wickets in reply, it took an undefeated 61-run stand between Paul Collingwood and Dale Benkenstein to restore Durham's authority before the close.
Surrey, lying just 15 points ahead of bottom-placed Durham at the start of the game, will need to mount an early recovery, even on a ground where the average first innings total this summer has been 153.
"We looked carefully at the games that have been played here this year and they've been low-scoring affairs," Chris Adams, Surrey's director of cricket, explained.
"The two innings of the game that have looked the hardest to bat have been the first and the fourth. It was a brave move when pretty much everything about the wicket is saying bowl first but if you look at the results here the fourth innings has been hellish to bat in. It was a case of which innings we wanted to take on, the first or the fourth, and the general consensus in the side was 'let's be brave' rather than take on the fourth innings."
Bold it may have been but from the moment Durham's potent seam attack began to make inroads, it became clear Surrey were unlikely to profit from their gamble. Already three down in the final over before lunch, their cause was not helped by the untimely run out of Jason Roy, as Mark Stoneman threw down the stumps from square leg.
Ben Stokes, Durham's allrounder, underlined his progress as a bowler this summer since being given more responsibility and bowled with pace, generated swing, and demonstrated his highly effective yorker to finish with 4 for 40. Chris Rushworth, another who has benefitted from more opportunities, was not far behind with 3 for 36 to take his tally to 22 Championship victims in his fifth match.
Beginning their reply on a wicket that remained difficult to overcome, Durham lost Stoneman before tea when he picked out midwicket and then lost three wickets in 10 overs immediately after the interval. That included the dismissal of Keaton Jennings, a left-handed batsman making a good impression on his Championship debut.
A former captain of South Africa's Under-19 side and son of the former South Africa coach Ray Jennings, Keaton qualifies through his Sunderland-born mother and showed a discipline and application ideal for such conditions. He batted for an hour and a half for his 23 before being run out from slip looking to steal a quick single.
At 58 for 4, it was by no means certain Durham would secure a lead but Collingwood and Benkenstein used all their experience of such situations to guide their side within sight of a lead. By the close, batting was looking easier after a day of sunshine and they had high hopes for pushing on for a big lead.
"We've got them out for a low total and hopefully these two at the crease can kick on and get a big lead," Stokes said. "They have got us out of a tricky situation there, after losing three wickets very quickly, so for them to dig in and stick it out like they did was fantastic for us. The pitch has got a bit better since this morning, so hopefully that will also be in our favour."
That was certainly the view of David Hughes, the former Lancashire captain turned pitch inspector, who was alerted by the number of wickets falling and inspected at tea. He reported back what most in the ground suspected, that good bowling had exploited seamer-friendly conditions to provide Durham with a platform for victory.
Durham climb out of relegation zone
Surrey will be reminded of their outstanding finish to last season when Chris Adams, their director of cricket, provides the analysis on a humiliating defeat to Durham
Collingwood comes good for Durham
There are few more determined cricketers than Paul Collingwood and he is now utilising the desire and experience that once helped England to spearhead Durham's unexpected rally to avoid relegation.