Durham and Yorkshire finished first and second in the 2013 English County Cricket championship but in the early stages of the current season, the two teams have encountered contrasting fortunes. Yorkshire have assumed the leadership of the table after five matches whereas Durham are languishing in eighth position and without a win in four attempts. For the current champions, there may be further problems in the days ahead.
Having barely strengthened the playing squad during the winter, Durham are planning to further develop their policy of developing home grown talent with finances preventing the addition of an overseas player to improve the quality of the playing staff. Yet in two county matches this spring, opposition teams have plundered over 500 runs in their first innings and weather interruptions may have saved Durham from further embarrassment.
With four draws from their opening encounters, the search for that elusive win will continue and the return of Ben Stokes from the injury incurred while on tour England should help their fortunes. However, the latest draw in Sussex can be partially credited to the performance with the bat by Kumar Sangakkara.
The Sri Lankan batsman scored 159 in only his third innings for Durham but that will be his final act as a county player for the team. It was certainly a significant improvement on his opening figures of 0 and 14 in the match with Yorkshire when questions were being asked about his commitment during his short term stay.
Even more worrying for Durham coach Jon Lewis is an injury sustained by Graham Onions when bowling during the first innings at Hove. Such was the extent of his back injury, that it was envisaged that he would not feature in any second innings by Sussex. The weather and a good reply by Durham prevented that from happening, but at this early stage of the season, any long term injury to the leading strike bowler at the county will not be good news with the squad already stretched in that department.
To date, Durham have amassed 13 batting bonus points which is the third highest total among the First Division teams and they have played a game less than most of the others. However they share the lowest bowling points of 9 with two other counties.
On May 19th, Durham begin another four day match against the only other unbeaten team in the Championship when the travel to Somerset. Although another draw will not be a disaster, they will hope to for a repeat of the reverse fixture at Chester-le-Street when they dismissed their opponents for 185 in the first innings.
A series of consistent bowling performances will be required in the next few weeks, just to prevent Durham from becoming embroiled in a relegation tussle just one year after claiming the County Championship trophy.