Phil Mustard will be asked to take on added responsibility when Durham begin the defence of their County Championship title at Northampton tomorrow.
The wicketkeeper is slated to bat at No 5, having spent most of his four-day career in the bottom half of the batting line-up.
After the departutes of Dale Benkenstein and Will Smith, injury to Ben Stokes, and with the short-term signing of Kumar Sangakkara still awaiting approval from the Sri Lankan cricket board, Durham are looking to make better use of Mustard.
“When I saw Stokesey was going to be limited due to England call-ups it was a way of getting our experienced players up the order,” explained coach Jon Lewis. “Phil’s had the ambition to bat a bit further up the order for a while and at this stage of his career it’s a nice fresh challenge for him to take a bit more responsibility as a senior player. He’s more than capable of batting at five.
“We didn’t really want to move Paul (Collingwood), we’re happy with where he’s batting, he provides a bit of solidity around the middle.
“Things could obviously change when Stokes comes back and if Sangakkara comes in – that’s a big if.
“The plan is to try and give Phil more responsibility.”
Durham have had a positive repsonse from former Sri Lanka captain Sangakkara about a short-term deal.
It would give the 36-year-old practice in English conditions ahead of the Test series here in June, when Australian bowler John Hastings would take over as Durham’s overseas player.
Mustard, who opens in limited-overs cricket, has shown great skill at shepherding the tail in recent years, but the move should make more his talent with the bat.
With wicketkeeper Stuart Poynter signed in the winter to provide competition, Mustard cannot afford to get complacent.
“It’s always good to have someone in behind you fighting for your place,” he argued. “Hopefully if I get injured he can step up pretty nicely.
“He’s good value. He enjoys the lads and he’s got a cockney twang about him, and he’s a pretty good player as well.”
Mustard’s glovework was not up to his high standards in 2013, but he is happy with how he has performed in pre-season.
“I haven’t dropped any yet, so that’s a Brucie Bonus!” he commented. “My feet are moving well. I’ve never had any big issues with my keeping.
“I had a few stinkers last year but generally it’s been pretty solid.”
Scott Borthwick was unable to bowl in this week’s drawn warm-up against Durham University because of a side strain, whilst a “tight thigh” prevent Michael Richardson from fielding on the final day.
Lewis is relaxed about both, meaning the only question about the balance of tomorrow’s team will be over who bats at seven.
The decision will be a straight choice between the extra spin of Gareth Breese, the additional seam bowling of Paul Coughlin or, most likely, the batting of Gordon Muchall.
“It’s a question of what the pitch will be because Northants have got a couple of injuries, so we’re not quite sure what they’ll try to play on,” Lewis explained.
“We’re fairly confident Scott will be okay.”
Newly-promoted Northamptonshire’s latest injury has cost them the services of South Africa all-rounder Rory Kleinveldt, who withdrew from his contract yesterday with a knee injury. Northants turned to Kleinveldt when Australian Jackson Bird pulled out through injury.
David Willey and limited-overs captain Alex Wakely are also injured.<p/>
DURHAM (from): Stoneman, Jennings, Borthwick, Richardson, Mustard (wk), Collingwood (c), Muchall, Arshad, Harrison, Onions, Rushworth, Breese, Coughlin.<p/>
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