DURHAM'S efforts mirrored the weather at Northampton yesterday - awful start, good recovery.

Play did not get under way until 3.30 and after winning the toss for the third time in three championship matches, Dale Benkenstein must have wondered if he had chosen correctly when he went in with the score on 29 for three.

But with three fellow South Africans in the opposition - all Kolpak signings - he again showed his determination to keep Durham's season simmering during Mike Hussey's absence.

Following his century in last week's innings win against Essex, Benkenstein ended the day on 41 out of a total of 113 for four.

He survived a difficult chance to Jason Brown at long leg off a miscued hook but otherwise looked in excellent form and will hope to add substantially to his unbroken stand of 40 with Gareth Breese.

The Wantage Road pitch has tended to favour the spinners in recent seasons, with Durham arriving here once to find the ends had been roughed up.

But under Kepler Wessels they are obviously favouring the seamers and there is plenty of grass on the current surface, offering good bounce for the new-ball pair, South African Johann Louw and Tasmanian Damien Wright.

The top three all fell to edged catches against good bowling before Benkenstein joined Nathan Astle in a stand of 44.

Astle was off the mark with an edged four but quickly began to middle the ball and took ten off Louw's fourth over, with three twos on the leg side plus an off-driven four.

When Wright gave him width outside off stump Astle drove a magnificent six over cover and the early threat seemed to have evaporated when both bowlers were removed.

This seemed unnecessarily swift, however, on the part of home captain David Sales, whose haste to rotate his bowlers also saw him turn to off-spinner Jason Brown after only 17 overs.

That was partly a response to two poor overs by South African left-armer Charl Pietersen. But with the umpires deciding that the tea break would be taken after 22 of the 43 overs to be bowled, it was surprising that Sales did not give more early work to his best two bowlers.

When they returned after the break Wright immediately saw off Astle without addition to his score of 32.

The New Zealander pushed half forward to a ball he could have left and gave the coach's wicketkeeper son, Riki Wessels, his third catch.

Jon Lewis fell in similar fashion in the fifth over, except that he edged to former teammate Martin Love at first slip.

There was a time when Love was reluctant to field in the slips for Durham because he kept breaking fingers, but he held this routine chance comfortably.

Peng wisely left anything short of a length from Louw as the bounce saw the ball carry at well above stump height through to Wessels.

The makeshift opener could probably have left the one from Louw which snared him, but as it pitched on middle stump he played back defensively, only for the ball to move just enough to take the edge.

Gordon Muchall got an even better ball from Wright, bouncing steeply from a good length, and there was little he could do about it.

Although neither of the change bowlers, Pietersen and Ben Phillips, posed anything like the same threat, Benkenstein's eyes still seemed to light up on the introduction of Brown.

Two effortless and perfectly-placed on-drives for four helped him to 24 at tea, when Durham were 70 for three.

Astle's exit did not interrupt the flow of runs as Breese quickly carved Louw over gully for four and when Pietersen returned the Jamaican immediately drove him through extra cover for four.

Sales again turned to Brown before the end but the Durham batsmen comfortably played out the last few overs.

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