IF Ben Stokes was the Basingstoke basher yesterday Gordon Muchall was the maestro who saved Durham from further embarrassment.

Stokes scored 99 in a stand of 176 after going in with his side rocking on 40 for four and Muchall was unbeaten on 140 when Durham tried to keep the game alive by declaring on 320 for seven, 101 behind.

They sacrificed the chance of two more batting points in a bold move which put pressure on Hampshire to set a target on the final day. In 11 overs’ batting, the hosts reached 41 for two to lead by 142.

Durham will be hoping for a target of about 300 in 60 overs, but whether Hampshire are so generous will depend on how well they perceive the pitch to be playing on the final day.

With showers forecast, all calculations may be irrelevant.

Hampshire did not seem inclined to match Durham’s adventure when they sent in James Tomlinson as the nightwatchman with seven overs left after Ian Blackwell bowled Jimmy Adams with his first ball.

Tomlinson fell to the last ball of the day, caught at leg slip off Blackwell, and with the ball turning it is just as well for Durham that leftarmer Danny Briggs is Hampshire’s only spinner.

Muchall converted his ninth first-class century into his highest championship score since his 219 at Canterbury in the first game of 2006.

He received further assistance from Scott Borthwick, who raced to his maiden firstclass 50 off 68 balls before skying a catch to deep mid-wicket to prompt the declaration.

Stokes scorched from 74 to 99, taking 15 off an over from burly seamer David Balcombe, and should probably have reached his third century before he was out.

He pushed the ball into space at cover and set off, but was sent back by Muchall, prompting Stokes to attempt to complete his 100 with a big hit.

It was the first time he had been tempted to clear the short boundaries, and it was the first mistake he made as a skied shot off left-arm spinner Danny Briggs was well held by Sean Ervine, running to his right at deep mid-wicket.

Muchall made 106 not out early last season at Hove, but then had a top score of 40 in 12 innings before having to make way for Shivnarine Chanderpaul.

He returned for the seventh match this season at Edgbaston, making 60, but his frustrating stop-start career suffered another interruption when he made way for Paul Collingwood against Lancashire.

Now 28, it is eight years since he made his firstclass debut and his maiden century came that season at Lord’s, starting a trend which has seen him play most of his best innings in the south.

Not that the Basingstoke pitch was offering easy runs when he went in yesterday, as no other member of the top five reached double figures.

The previous day’s downpour had evidently not lasted long enough for Durham because play resumed at 11.30am and there still seemed to be some moisture in the pitch as the ball nibbled around.

Hampshire declared at their overnight 421 for five and, on a bright, blustery morning, Dominic Cork and left-armer Tomlinson earned three lbw verdicts.

The exception was Dale Benkenstein, whose lean run continued when he played back in David Balcombe’s first over and got the finest of edges to wicketkeeper Matthew Bates.

Normally the rock in Durham’s middle order, Benkenstein has totalled 75 runs in his last eight championship innings and would be happy to see Muchall take on the responsibility.

Michael Di Venuto and Ian Blackwell were both on the back foot when they were pinned in front, both failing to last an over.

Cork, who will be 39 on Saturday, snared Di Venuto with the fourth ball of the innings after being driven to the cover boundary.

Once ten overs had elapsed, Muchall began to look settled and timed the ball sweetly as he drove Cork through mid-on and followed up with another four clipped to mid-wicket.

With the total on 30, he lost Mark Stoneman, lbw to Tomlinson for nine.

The same bowler removed Blackwell for one and Muchall had to knuckle down, allowing Stokes to dominate their stand.

Given the situation and his predecessors’ struggles, Stokes looked remarkably secure and composed from the outset.

Already known as a powerful striker, he also showed touches of finesse, notably when he leaned forward and opened the face to run Cork to the vacant third man boundary.

A similar stroke off Ervine took him to 50 off 75 balls, while Muchall took 118 to reach his half-century, but only 68 for his second 50.

His biggest scare came on 97, when he nearly played on against Balcombe, but after turning Briggs to fine leg to bring up his hundred, he played with increasing fluency, lifting the spinner over mid-wicket for six.

He looked well capable of taking Durham to maximum batting points, but to spurn that option was a commendably positive move, which should help to keep the festival crowd entertained.



Overnight: Hampshire 373-5 (M A Carberry 162, M J Lumb 158).

Hampshire First Innings

J M Vince not out .................................27

J A Tomlinson not out ...........................31

Extras (b1 lb3 w6 nb6 pens 0) 16

Total 5 wkts dec (109 overs) .421

Fall: 1-31 2-345 3-346 4-348 5-365

Did Not Bat: D G Cork, M D Bates, D J Balcombe, D J Briggs.

Bonus Pts: Hampshire 7 Durham 4

Bowling: S J Harmison 28-4-106-1. Thorp 19-6-66-2. Stokes 9-2-41-0. Plunkett 14-0- 72-0. Blackwell 17-2-61-1. Borthwick 8-0- 52-0. Benkenstein 14-6-19-1.

Durham First Innings

M J Di Venuto lbw b Cork .......................4

M D Stoneman lbw b Tomlinson .............9

G J Muchall not out ............................140

D M Benkenstein c Bates b Balcombe ...5

I D Blackwell lbw b Tomlinson ................1

B A Stokes c Ervine b Briggs ................99

P Mustard c McKenzie b Balcombe ........0

S G Borthwick c Lumb b Cork ..............54

Extras (lb4 nb4 pens 0).............8

Total 7 wkts dec (82.4 overs) 320

Fall: 1-4 2-30 3-39 4-40 5-216 6-218 7-320

Did Not Bat: L E Plunkett, C D Thorp, S J Harmison.

Bonus Pts: Hampshire 7 Durham 4 Bowling: Cork 19.4-2-73-2. Tomlinson 16- 4-43-2. Balcombe 15-2-67-2. Briggs 21-1- 68-1. Ervine 11-0-65-0.

Hampshire Second Innings Close

M A Carberry not out ............................22

J H Adams b Blackwell ..........................5

J A Tomlinson c Plunkett b Blackwell .....2

Extras (b4 lb8 pens 0) .................12

Total 2 wkts (10.5 overs) .............41

Fall: 1-19 2-41

To Bat: M J Lumb, J M Vince, N D McKenzie, S M Ervine, D G Cork, M D Bates, D J Balcombe, D J Briggs.

Bonus Pts: Hampshire 7 Durham 4.

Bowling: S J Harmison 2.3-0-18-0. Thorp 2.3-1-6-0. Blackwell 3.5-1-3-2. Borthwick 2- 1-2-0.