England turn to Durham prospects for salvation

WHEN England clinched the Ashes series amid jubilant scenes at Chester-le-Street in August it could not have been foreseen that by the turn of the year two young Durham all-rounders would be trying to prevent a whitewash in the return.

While Ben Stokes confirmed himself as the shining light in the gloom with a six-wicket haul on the opening day at Sydney, his big pal Scott Borthwick was making a surprise Test debut.

Neither was close to playing in the home series and while their sudden elevation is a further feather in Durham's cap it will also raise concerns about the huge holes their absence would leave in the county side.

Borthwick, who had expected to be back home on Wearside for the New Year, is godfather to Stokes' one-year-old son, Layton.

It looked a convenient move when the leg-spinner got the call following Graeme Swann's retirement as he was about to end a spell of playing Grade cricket in Sydney.

But suddenly he was one of three making their Test debuts yesterday and the last time that happened was against India at Nagpur in 2006, when one of the trio was Ian Blackwell.

The others were Alastair Cook and Monty Panesar, who took 40 wickets in his first 12 Tests before his lack of ability with the bat and in the field began to count against him.

Blackwell played just the one Test and Wisden observed: "Not since Gavin Hamilton has an England player looked so painfully out of his depth on his Test debut."

Such a harsh assessment will not be levelled at Borthwick, whose enthusiastic rise to prominence with Durham effectively halted Blackwell's reign even before a shoulder injury ended his career.

While hugely talented, Blackwell was perceived as overweight and lazy, while Borthwick is a bundle of energy, known as "Badger" by his Durham team-mates.

His batting and fielding count hugely in his favour, but the fact that he is making his Test debut as England's sole spinner is a sad indictment of the lack of competition.

While Stokes can be expected to be an England colossus for years to come, it will be very interesting to see what now happens to Borthwick.

He is due to go on the England Lions tour to Sri Lanka in March, where he will be compared with Lancashire spinner Simon Kerrigan, who endured such a chastening debut in last summer's final Test.

When England were succeeding with a four-man attack, they relied on Swann to give the seamers a breather by bowling long, tight spells, conceding runs at around three an over.

Although he claimed his maiden Test scalp in Mitchell Johnson, Borthwick went for seven an over yesterday.

Skipper Cook would have seen little of him since the day at the end of the 2009 season when he was hit for five successive sixes by James Foster at Riverside to finish what had threatened to be a tight 40-over match. Cook was unbeaten on 104 as Essex chased down 277 to win.

Borthwick shrugged off the mauling, but his batting has come on much more than his bowling, underlining yet again what a difficult art leg spin is to learn.

He might join Stokes as an all-rounder in the middle order, but England will surely not be able to select him as their sole spinner in next summer's home series against Sri Lanka and India, both masters of playing spin.

Whatever happens, the 23-year-old Farringdon College product has become the seventh Durham product since 1992 to play for England following Simon Brown, Steve Harmison, Paul Collingwood, Liam Plunkett, Graham Onions and Stokes.

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