Durham will receive an unexpected bonus this morning when they name Ben Stokes on a 50-over team sheet for the first time.
Quite where England’s most talented all-rounder will fit into their plans will only be decided when they finally get a look at this morning’s Canterbury pitch.
Dropped for the third Test against India, Stokes will instead play for his county against Kent in the Royal London Cup.
The Riversiders could never have expected to have the 23-year-old available for the new competition, and woke up this morning unsure how best to use him.
“Until we actually see the pitch it will be hard to know how we will fit Ben in,” admitted coach Jon Lewis. “It will depend whether we think we need to strengthen our batting more, or our bowling.
“It’s very close to one side and it was so well sheeted up it was quite hard at first to tell where it was!
“It’s positive that we’ve got a lot of guys who can contribute with bat and ball but you have to be careful it doesn’t cloud the issue. We need batsmen to understand it’s their role to score hundreds and bowlers to do the dirty work at the end of an innings.”
In truth, Stokes’ availability has left Durham with too big a squad, but having him available makes it worthwhile. “We’ve probably taken more players than we would have liked,” admitted Lewis, whose side lost a 600-run-plus opening game at Somerset on Sunday.
“I didn’t want to take 13 to Taunton because if you do that and someone gets off the bus with a siezed back you’re down to 12 straight away. But when we set off I didn’t know we were going to have Ben as well.
“Unfortunately for some of the guys they’re going to get dragged along a lot of miles without any cricket so I might try to get a few of the lads into the second team game at home to Worcestershire, even if they don’t make it in time for the 11am start.
“England released Ben as soon as the coin came down at the toss on Sunday.
“Ben rang me the night before. He’d got the impression he was going to be released but he needed to stay on until the toss just in case someone got injured and our game started at the same time (10.30am).
“But he wanted to come through to Taunton anyway and meet up with the guys, which was good.”
Although Stokes can feel hard done by having played in only two of England’s five Tests since his outstanding Ashes tour there are no signs that he is.
“I haven’t really spoken to him specifically about being left out of the Test team so I don’t know what reasons he was given but he’s been in good spirits,” said Lewis.
“He’s never quiet but he’s brought real energy to the group.”
DURHAM (from): Stonemann (c), Mustard (wk), MacLeod, Stokes, Richardson, Borthwick, Muchall, Collingwood, Breese, Jennings, Hastings, Coughlin, Onions, Rushworth, Pringle