THERE was another tearful farewell for Durham today as Keaton Jennings followed Graham Onions in expressing his love for the county he is leaving.

It evokes memories of the old Roger Whitaker song: “I've got to leave old Durham Town and the leaving's gonna get me down.”

The exodus will also be getting the members down and most will see the re-signing of Will Smith as a backward step.

The way forward for Durham should be to rely on the best academy in the country to produce players capable of flourishing in division one, which Smith managed in 2008, when his runs played a big part in landing Durham's first title.

Now 34, he has shown little sign of reproducing that form in four years with Hampshire and has been unable to command a place this season.

Jennings and Onions are heading for Lancashire, who have had to rely on 43-year-old Shivnarine Chanderpaul to prop them up this season.

The departures, coupled with that of Paul Coughlin to Nottinghamshire, ensure that the savage sanctions imposed by the ECB a year ago are proving even more punishing than they intended and kind words do little to soften the blow.

Jennings said: “My heartfelt gratitude goes to Durham for the opportunities, support and guidance in enabling me to follow my dream of playing cricket in England.

“My years at the county have been positive and inspirational and I leave with the happiest of memories and the closest of friends.

“Despite being career-driven, the decision to move on has been agonisingly difficult for me. Everyone in the north has become, and will remain, 'family' to me. I wish consolidation and success to DCCC.”

Jennings could have left last winter, but stayed on in the hope that Durham would bounce straight back to division one, which was always unlikely with a weakened squad and a 48-point penalty.

The vultures began to gather over what they perceived as the Durham carcass when the financial situation which led to the ECB bail-out became apparent last summer.

In Mark Stoneman, Jennings and Coughlin, Durham have lost three players who have been given captaincy experience. All had been carefully nurtured along the route towards fulfilling international ambitions and all have spoken of the wrench in leaving.

But they could see how the tide had turned against Durham. The new kids on what was initially a chopping block had turned into the upstarts who dared to become the most successful county. But when there was suddenly a price to pay a few jealous souls at the ECB made sure it was a hefty one.

There would have been no tears shed in Durham had Yorkshire been relegated this season, considering how ECB chairman Colin Graves is prepared to prop up a county whose debts are three times as great.

It would be no surprise if Durham chairman Sir Ian Botham had exchanged some heated words with fellow Sky commentator Paul Allott, a board member at Lancashire.

Botham was clearly angered by the departure of Coughlin last week, but opted for a conciliatory tone yesterday when he said: “Keaton has been an important player for Durham, a natural leader and I have been hugely impressed by his professionalism and courtesy through what has been a very difficult decision for him. I would like to take the opportunity to wish him well for the future.”

How that future will pan out is impossible to predict from Jennings' astonishing extremes of form. When he was on the crest of his wave he was even tipped as a future England captain, but Lancashire will hope he strikes the happy medium of being a prolific county player without being quite good enough to be an England regular.