The announcement today that Dale Benkenstein is to join Hampshire as their new coach brings to an end one of the great Durham careers.
The former South Africa international retires as the county’s highest run-scorer in First-Class cricket, and their most successful and respected captain.
Benkenstein joined on trial in 2004 and impressed enough to win a permanent contract the following year.
With Mike Hussey and his vice-captain Paul Collingwood both involved in the 2005 England v Australia one-day series, he took over the reins in the second half of the season.
He guided the Riversiders to promotion in both four and one-day cricket, and was instrumental in Durham avoiding County Championship relegation in 2006. They are the only club not to have been relegated since.
Replying to relegation rivals Yorkshire’s 677-7 declared, Durham were heading for a big defeat at 191-6. But Benkenstein’s 151, in a 315-run partnership with Ottis Gibson rescued a draw, and with Nottinghamshire somehow taking a solitary point from their game with Sussex, a draw kept both northern sides up at their expense.
From there, Durham went from strength to strength.
Benkenstein lifted the Friends Provident Trophy, Durham’s first major silverware, at Lord’s the following summer, and won Championships in 2008 and 2009.
By the time of the second success, Benkenstein had handed over the captaincy to Will Smith, and without it he was one of Wisden’s cricketers of the year. For all his brilliance as a captain – he was made Natal skipper aged 22 – he was always quick to look for an opportunity to hand the reins over to young English players.
When Smith was sacked in 2010 Durham would have loved Benkenstein to take the job back but, wary of the demands, he allowed Phil Mustard to take it instead.
Benkenstein took over as limited-overs captain in 2011 to ease the burden on Mustard, and kept it under Paul Collingwood.
He dislocated his shoulder for a second time playing at Surrey in May 2013, and never played for Durham again.
Geoff Cook’s heart attack changed the course of Benkenstein’s future.
On the day a meeting was due to discuss the now-injured Benkenstein taking over the coaching of the Twenty20 side, Cook suffered a heart attack and it was instead decided to give Jon Lewis the job on an interim basis. When Durham won the Championship, Lewis was handed the job full-time.
By then Benkenstein was in South Africa, working as a batting consultant for Natal. Although he club always insisted he would be back to fulfil the last year of his contract, the press release announcing his arrival – long before Durham confirmed it – read like a farewell. Benkenstein talked about the “home sickness” he and his family had felt.
In 2011 Benkenstein overtook Lewis as Durham’s highest run-scorer in First-Class cricket. In 137 matches he scored 9,055 runs at an average of 45.96. A handy if reluctant seam bowler, he claimed 44 wickets at 38.11.
Benkenstein will now be reunited with Smith as Hampshire’s new coach. His steadying influence, as much as his runs, will be sorely missed.