Stokes the difference for Durham – Around The Wicket

The Northern Echo: Day 1 of County Championship between Durham and Sussex.  Durham's Ben Stokes hits out.  Picture: CHRIS BOOTH (7390335) Day 1 of County Championship between Durham and Sussex. Durham's Ben Stokes hits out. Picture: CHRIS BOOTH (7390335)

ABOUT halfway through his first over in the T20 game against Leicestershire, something appeared to click with Ben Stokes’ bowling.

And while it may not have mattered too much in the context of that game, especially with the remarkable combustion of Usman Arshad’s beamers followed by a rather unfortunate Paul Collingwood over, it could end up being one of the pivotal moments in English cricket this summer.

His career best match figures of 10/121, while not single-handedly winning the game, looked to be the difference between a decent Durham attack and one which could consistently take 20 wickets, despite the absence of Graham Onions.

From his own personal perspective, this performance with the ball couldn’t have come at a better time as England depressingly toiled against Sri Lanka.

The decision to drop Stokes because he was short of overs under his belt initially had some credence, although it’s fair to say Stuart Broad hardly looked in peak condition.

Understandably, the clamour for Stokes to return to the England side has amplified but quite where he will fit into the team is a matter for debate.

The top six for England, with the exception of the somewhat beleaguered Alistair Cook and the undroppable Ian Bell, all have recent centuries to their name, so it’s safe to assume that Stokes will be in competition with former Durham man Liam Plunkett and Chris Jordan.

The waters are muddied further by the very clear need for England to find a frontline spinner, rather than relying on the competent, if relatively non-threatening spin of Moeen Ali and Joe Root.

If Stokes remains the odd man out in the face of needing to shuffle in a spinner, then his loss may well be Durham’s gain as they start to build a little bit of Championship momentum.

After Chris Rushworth’s fine performance against Lancashire, John Hastings looks to be finally getting his head around English conditions, with his bowling average quietly sneaking under 20 with little fanfare and an impressive first innings 51 with the bat.

His and Paul Coughlin’s batting at nine and ten mean that it’s currently a formidable Championship line-up which is arguably unmatched in depth at this level.

Yet there have also been stand out individual contributions with the bat in recent weeks, with Scott Borthwick, whose batting was last season bafflingly dismissed by England selectors, easing his average above 50 and Keaton Jennings finally converting one of his starts to three figures.

But just as Durham build momentum in the Championship, the return of another block of T20 feels more of an inconvenience than the carefree fun it’s intended to be.

The structure of the competition has ensured that at this stage nobody is too far away from a qualification spot for the quarter finals but the form in which Durham find themselves makes that feel like an incredibly distant prospect.

You would presume that three wins out of four are required over the next block of games for Durham to stay in touch but there is a suspicion that at least one eye will be on the next Championship game away at Yorkshire.

While this year’s fixture takes place at Headingly rather than Scarborough, 2013’s game was decisive in not only Durham’s Championship win but in the making of that man Stokes, as he rampaged through Yorkshire in the second innings while others fell foul to injury.

Whether he makes it to Leeds or to Trent Bridge for a deserved England recall remains to be seen but it’s these decisions which may shape the direction of this year’s Championship.

JAMES TIERNAN

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