WHILE several counties head for Barbados to prepare for the cricket season, Durham will have to settle for four days at Loughborough.

In the past they have been to South Africa or Dubai, but they are now restricted by the same financial constraints which have forced the search for an overseas player to be suspended.

Jacques Rudolph was among those sounded out, but coach Geoff Cook said: “Once the club’s financial position became evident we had to accept that.

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“Rudolph is probably not going to play any more Test cricket so, rather like David Boon, we thought he would be a good man to have at the end of his career. But at the moment we are planning without an overseas man.”

There is still a possibility that the termination of Ian Blackwell’s contract will free up some money, but that has still to be resolved.

“The medical people said he wouldn’t be fit for firstclass cricket after his shoulder operation,” said Cook.

“The Professional Cricketers’ Association has an injury insurance policy, but it’s an awkward situation.”

Following the release of Blackwell and Liam Plunkett, plus the retirement of Michael Di Venuto, Durham will make a considerable saving on last year’s wage bill as Keaton Jennings is the only new signing.

The full squad will assemble on Monday week except for Mitch Claydon, Mark Stoneman and Mark Wood, who are expected back from playing overseas in mid- March.

They will go to Loughborough on March 24, where it is hoped the weather will allow them to use the outdoor facilities and possibly arrange a game.

Meanwhile, Cook accepts he might have to keep a closer eye on Ben Stokes following the 21-year-old all-rounder’s dismissal from the England Lions tour of Australia.

Stokes’ father Ged, a former New Zealand Rugby League international, left the family’s Cumbria home last summer to take up a job offer in Perth, Australia.

“They had a close relationship,”

said Cook. “So now his dad’s not around perhaps we need to watch out for Ben a bit more. I’ll be sitting down with him when he gets back from Australia.”

At the time of his departure, Stokes senior said the need to work had forced his hand and he regretted having to leave behind his wife, Deb, who was working for the Rising Sun Trust, a drug and alcohol education charity, in Workington.

Ben is named on the charity’s website as a patron, but is now likely to be advised by Cook – among others – to curb his own drinking, which was the reason given for his banishment from the tour.

Ged Stokes was known as a tough disciplinarian and had coached the Workington and Whitehaven Rugby League teams after bringing his family to Cumbria in 2003.

He never forgave those responsible for sacking him at Workington for an alleged breach of discipline and took them to court, eventually winning an out-of-court settlement.

He lost the Whitehaven job during his third season there shortly before the club went into administration.