The resumption of the County Cricket season in England was greeted with centuries by both Alastair Cook and Ian Bell in the opening matches of the 16 match championship series, but for 2013 Division One title winners Durham, failure to end the last wicket partnership of Northants resulted in their four day fixture finishing in a draw. Yet, the forthcoming months could provide some awkward issues for the reigning County Champions as they seek to retain their grip at the top of the table.
Durham have been beset by financial concerns in recent years and have been unable to afford an overseas signing. Instead, both Geoff Cook and his recent successor Jon Lewis have relied on producing home grown talent from within the junior ranks.
The likes of Graham Onions, Ben Stokes and Scott Borthwick provide ample proof that the formula is reaping benefits and paying dividends on the field, but effective policies such as this can also yield a downside.
It is entirely possible that the England selectors may be looking for new blood during the summer as they look to repair the damage of the winter Ashes series, and Stokes was one of the few success stories of the Australian tour as an all-rounder. Leg spinner cum batsman Borthwick may also feature more prominently for the national squad after a reasonable debut in Sydney.
With the inclusion of Onions also being considered after he was controversially overlooked for the ill-fated winter tour, all three being declared unavailable for a considerable number of Durham championship contests would seriously undermine their hopes of challenging for honours once again.
It does seem strange that a team which enjoys success via a talented group of players can become of its own favourable performances when those same players are removed from the county circuit to represent their country in the ever increasing amount of international matches.
Obviously, the county coaches and committees are aware of these issues and need to cover the absences of their star players for considerable periods of time. In such cases, youth development can become a genuine priority.
An alternative process of seeking new talent from elsewhere is also widely adopted but only when finance allows such a policy. For Durham, this practice has become rather restrictive in recent seasons, although the temporary signing of star Sri Lankan batsman Kumar Sangakkara should offer some degree of experience and a plentiful supply of runs during his short stay in Chester-Le-Street.
Inexperience within the ranks led to bookmakers installing Durham as one the favourites for relegation from the top flight of English county cricket last season. They confounded the critics on that occasion but further depletion of the squad for this campaign may not be in their best interests in the coming months.
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