DURHAM have had second thoughts about signing a top-order overseas batsman for next season after drawing a blank in their efforts to date.

Top of their list of targets was the Australian Phil Hughes, but he wasn't prepared to make the commitment and in the difficult financial climate the club are not prepared to gamble.

Chief executive David Harker said: "We see the key challenge for the club as being to replace Michael DiVenuto's runs. In the latter part of the season and in the early close season we have made great efforts to recruit someone with proven quality.

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"Unfortunately none of our leading targets has been prepared to commit.

"So we have taken the decision not to invest funds in any player who is either unproven or cannot guarantee his availability so that we can plan on working with what we have."

Durham will start next season on minus 2.5 points and have also been fined after they owned up to exceeding the ECB salary cap.

Despite shedding Di Venuto and Liam Plunkett from the wage bill, there are still concerns and Harker added: "We have to work within the confines of the salary cap and our experience last season demonstrates that we have to work with sufficient headroom to allow for the uncertainty of England call-ups.

"Also as young players continue to develop and earn their rewards it is a challenge to recruit new players without releasing others to whom we may have a contractual commitment."

That could be taken as a reference to Ian Blackwell and Steve Harmison, neither of whom featured much for Durham last season but are contracted for another year on high salaries.

Blackwell has undergone a shoulder operation and is not expected to be fit for the start of next season.

Harker added: "The overall financial position of the club hasn't significantly worsened but it has not been helped by last season's weather and the ongoing recession.

"We will keep an eye on the market and if a player of the right quality became available I am sure we would do our best to make that work if at all possible."

It is not the first time Durham have approached Hughes, a 24-year-old left-handed opener. In 2009 he opted for Middlesex instead and totalled 574 runs in five championship innings before joining the Australian squad for the Ashes tour.

He has been unable to establish himself in the Test side, but last season he played for Worcestershire and scored 87 out of 205 in his side's first innings against Durham at Worcester, then made a century at the Emirates Durham ICG in August.

He will no doubt be hoping for an Indian Premier League contract, as will Mike Hussey, who might otherwise interest Durham for the early part of the season as the Ashes series doesn't start until July.

IPL players tend to be ruled out until late May and Durham will have played six championship games by then.