Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Balancing Act Is Crucial, Says Dale; as Durham Start Their 21st First-Class Season, Dale Benkenstein Talks to Stuart Rayner about Blends and Balance

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Balancing Act Is Crucial, Says Dale; as Durham Start Their 21st First-Class Season, Dale Benkenstein Talks to Stuart Rayner about Blends and Balance

Article excerpt

THERE were plenty of grey hairs when Durham posed for their annual squad photograph at Chester-le-Street last week. Today's game at home to Nottinghamshire may be the first of the county's 21st County Championship season, but the squad came of age long ago.

Dale Benkenstein, Michael Di Venuto (pictured below), Paul Collingwood, and Callum Thorp are nearer 40 than 30. Life might begin at that age, but cricket careers usually end before it.

Even some of the "youngsters" are getting on a bit. Liam Plunkett turned 27 last week, Gordon Muchall is 30 this winter. But experience is all the rage in county cricket.

Only Marcus Trescothick, 36 on Christmas Day, and Murray Goodwin, 39, outscored Benkenstein in Division One of last season's Championship. Trescothick led Somerset to the brink of a clean sweep, only to end the campaign potless. Lancashire's Glenn Chapple, then 37, lifted the Championship trophy instead.

So with wicket-takers the key in Benkenstein's eyes, thirty-somethings Thorp and Stephen Harmison could be vital to Durham's season.

"The blend is important," says Durham's best batsman last season, who turned 37 midway through it. "In county cricket your success is two-fold - you're trying to produce players for England and win competitions. The young players were playing a big role last season and they then got picked. Graham (Onions, 29) was the same. He was a key guy for us with his bowling. His success was almost a handicap. As a team you end up paying for it."

England debuts for Ben Stokes and Scott Borthwick show Durham are not neglecting national duty in pursuit of silverware. But their Dad's Army is safe from the international selectors.

It is just one of the balances to be struck. For much of Durham's First-Class history - the 20th anniversary of which falls on Saturday - weak batting has let down the bowlers. In recent years it has become a strength, to the point where Benkenstein believes finding two 50-wicket seamers will be crucial to the success most expect.

"Our batting is probably as strong as it's ever been in Durham's history," he says. "Even if you look down to (lower-order) guys like Borthwick and Plunkett, we've got so many guys who do both things well that really it makes our batting so deep. It's the bowling I think that will really be the key to us winning.

"If the spinners are able to take more wickets, we need two seamers to get 50 wickets. That was our downfall last year, there wasn't really anybody to back up Thorpy and Onions at crucial times." Benkenstein was the only man to play every game last term - justification if any were needed for the two-year contract extension awaiting his signature - and while he wants to repeat the feat, he is confident the county can now cope without him. …

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