Sussex let the opportunity to put the county champions under pressure slip through their fingers as Dale Benkenstein led a Durham fightback at Hove.

The 34-year-old South African, who led Durham to the first title in their history last season before giving up the captaincy, scored 136, his second successive hundred in the LV County Championship.

Last week he was dropped twice by Somerset before he had reached double figures and recovered to make a match-saving 181.

Yesterday he was on 19 when he edged a seaming delivery from Robin Martin-Jenkins to second slip where the normally reliable Ollie Rayner dropped what was by professional standards a routine low catch to his right.

Martin-Jenkins’ mood hardly improved when Benkenstein cracked the next delivery through the covers for four and although Sussex reduced Durham to 162-6 after 55 overs there was no shifting Benkenstein, who went on to score his second successive hundred at Hove.

He fell in the penultimate over to the persevering Damien Wright, wearily pulling a short ball to deep mid wicket after adding 148 in 39 overs for the seventh wicket with Liam Plunkett, having batted for four-and-three-quarter hours, faced 230 balls and hit 18 fours and a six.

Durham were in an even worse position here last June when Benkenstein rescued them with 110 and they went on to win by eight wickets. Sussex hope history does not repeat itself.

There was something to assist the seamers all day. The ball swung at the start and when the clouds rolled over in the afternoon and the indications are that the pitch will play similarly to the one which produced such an even contest against Lancashire a fortnight ago until Sussex’s lower order collapsed on the final morning.

Skipper Mike Yardy could not have complained about the efforts of his seam attack who shared the wickets until Benkenstein and Plunkett began to turn things around late in the afternoon.

Wright didn’t hold back in his 12 over spell with the new ball, bowling Mark Stoneman off his pads in his second over and then removing the dangerous Michael Di Venuto when the former Sussex opener gloved down the leg side and Andrew Hodd took an outstanding one-handed catch almost behind him.

Benkenstein looked vulnerable early on, edging successive Martin-Jenkins’ deliveries through the slips to the vacant third man area for four but he soon prospered, hitting crisply and cleanly off either foot through the covers to collect the majority of his boundaries. He also used his feet to loft Chris Nash’s off spin over long off.

Sussex kept plugging away at the other end though. Gordon Muchall was squared up by Luke Wright and Hodd took another athletic catch tumbling to his right.

Keeping at Hove is difficult because so many balls have to be taken below knee height and stumpers have to stand a yard or so closer than they would at most grounds but it was a good day for Hodd. His glovework was exemplary in only his fifth Championship appearance since 2007.

Corey Collymore looked a lot more comfortable coming down the slope and he trapped Ian Blackwell on the back foot before Martin-Jenkins returned to the attack to end a stand of 58 for the sixth wicket when Phil Mustard walked across a straight one.

While Benkenstein continued to prosper Plunkett also grew in confidence after a scratchy start to lodge only the seventh half-century of his career.

His defensive technique looked sound and, like his partner, he was happy to show his strength off the back foot.