Durham cannot but help to rain on their parade

JUST when it seemed Durham's luck might be changing, things reverted to type at Chester-le-Street.

Dale Benkenstein in action for Durham CCC

JUST when it seemed Durham's luck might be changing, things reverted to type at Chester-le-Street.

But with a decent platform at the end of an on-off first day, the Riversiders are still in a position to shape their own destiny against Championship-chasing Warwickshire.

Having grafted to 66, Ben Stokes playing on to Chris Wright was reminiscent of quite a few Durham dismissals recently. So, unfortunately, was the way Dale Benkenstein tossed his wicket away.

The good news is Paul Collingwood looks to have the form and hunger to build on last week’s first half-century of the season if he can just find someone to stick around with him today.

In a complete reversal of the start of last week’s game, Durham won the toss and the opposition lost a player to a back spasm. With captain Jim Troughton unable to play, Warwickshire had to call on 19-year-old bowler Tom Milnes.

Having gone past 5,000 career First-Class runs and rebuilt Durham’s innings after a poor start, Will Smith got lucky when he withdrew his bat and inside-edged four. Durham batsmen had been out that way in the previous two matches.

Soon, though, Stokes made it an unwanted hat-trick.

The England all-rounder turned 21 on Monday and was looking good to follow up the sixth First-Class century of his fledgling career, achieved against Lancashire last week. He was particularly impressive driving on the back foot, and a cut behind square showed delicacy not normally associated with such a powerful hitter.

Again he demonstrated patience, batting two-and-a-half hours, yet spicing his innings with enough good shots to keep the hardy souls on the terraces entertained.

His demise came in a flurry at the end of the 49th over. Keith Barker dropped Stokes on 62 when the ball was pulled to mid-on. It looked a costly miss when Stokes pulled again – this time squarer and along the ground – two deliveries later for four.

But from the next ball he went to drive and changed his mind, playing on withdrawing his bat as he had done in the first innings against Lancashire, and as Mark Stoneman did at Somerset. When results are against you, fortune tends to follow it.

Always animated when he gets out, Stokes angrily kicked his bat as he stomped back to the changing room. He knew what a good opportunity he had passed up.

There was rain in the air – 13 overs were lost in three interruptions – but perhaps when Phil Mustard chose to bat after winning the toss it was in the expectation that overhead conditions would be as friendly as they were going to get over four days. There was even a bit of blue sky then.

Stokes had put on 109 with Smith, who was yet more restrained.

The pair came together at 23-2 after Rikki Clarke took two slip catches – one routine, one brilliant, low to his left. Stoneman had been driving at Barker, and Gordon Muchall played back to Wright for a seven-ball duck.

It took until the 14th over for a Durham boundary off the bat. Like busses, three came at once. The first two Smith played down between slips and gully, squared up the second. Stokes completed the set with a straight drive.

Smith had 21 before his first really positive shot, a pull to the rope. On 46 he edged just in front of Clarke off Wright.

Having worked so hard for 138 deliveries, he was livid to fall short of 50 playing around the ball, turning his back in disgust rather than watch Steve O’Shaughnessy raise his finger.

On the same 22-yard mown strip Collingwood and Benkenstein had 48 hours earlier let off the fireworks which decorated an already impressive one-day batting performance against Nottinghamshire and turned it into an exceptional one. Two days on the situation could scarcely be more different, the gathering clouds helping the ball move about.

One gets the feeling both secretly prefer these backs-to-the-wall missions to putting a cherry on the top.

Clearly boosted by his first 50 of the year – Benkenstein is still waiting for his after injury – Collingwood was the more aggressive, even if his partner did signal his intent after cutting the first ball after the last rain break for four.

The South African was dropped on 13, wicketkeeper Tim Ambrose diving across the slips. From Milnes’ next over a Collingwood edge found Clarke’s hand – perhaps on the full, maybe the half-volley – but popped out.

Having rocked back to pull a four to take him to 40, Benkenstein tried a similar shot three balls later and picked out midwicket. With the new ball due from the next delivery, it was most uncharacteristic from the man who turns 38 on Saturday, but Collingwood and nightwatchman Jamie Harrison survived the last three overs and will today hope to add to the two batting points Durham have claimed here this season.

 
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