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Will Benkenstein return to Durham?
AS Durham prepare to step up their bid for a third championship title in six seasons the man who led them to the first fades further from the picture.
While they aim to equal their record of four successive championship wins at Derby, starting on Wednesday, Dale Benkenstein will be getting stuck into his new role as batting consultant to the Sunfoil Dolphins.
Known as Natal when he captained them, they have also signed Graham Onions, who will spend the winter with them if he is not selected in England's Ashes squad.
Despite shedding three big earners in Michael Di Venuto, Ian Blackwell and Liam Plunkett last year, Durham are aiming to reduce the wage bill by a further £400,000 and paying off Benkenstein is a possibility.
He has a year left on his contract, but at 39 his form has waned since his brilliant season in 2011 and in his absence since his shoulder operation it has become clear that his experience is no longer needed.
Durham began the season on minus 2.5 points as part of their punishment for exceeding the ECB's £1.8m salary cap and for next season the aim is to have the wage bill down to little more than £1.1m.
Around 30 per cent of what they are looking to save will come from the official ending of Steve Harmison's career, while Ruel Brathwaite has gone and Mitch Claydon is joining Kent. Callum Thorp is also out of contract and seems increasingly prone to injury at 38.
He has long been seen as the successor to Geoff Cook as head coach and by settling his family in Durham it seemed he had a long-term future with the club.
But all that changed when Benkenstein's shoulder operation roughly coincided with Cook's heart attack.
His mother-in-law's illness had already prompted Benkenstein's wife and three children to return to South Africa and Dale joined them once he had had his operation.
He has already passed three of the four levels in coaching expertise and claimed that Cook had offered him the chance to coach Durham in the Twenty20 competition. But no-one else was aware of that and when Jon Lewis was put in charge Benkenstein was asked to assist with the T20 coaching.
He was not impressed and declined the role, although he was happy enough after a clear-the-air meeting with club officials.
As things stand, he expects to be back next season, but with the young team developing so well it would be counter-productive to have both Benkenstein and Paul Collingwood in the top six.
He told the Dolphins' website: "My family and I are loving being back Natal. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time with Durham but have missed family, friends and home. There are some challenging times ahead for the Sunfoil Dolphins and South African cricket. I'm excited to be part of overcoming those challenges."
Head coach Lance Klusener said: "We are very excited to have Dale join the team. He brings a wealth of experience."
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