If England thought they were good enough to do without him, Ben Stokes’ 7-67 reminded them they have no choice but to find a place for him.
Stokes was adamant last night he is not out to prove anything after being overlooked for the Test series with Sri Lanka, but he could scarcely have not made his point any more forcefully,
There was an irony to Stokes rampaging through Sussex’s batting line-up as the Three Lions struggled desperately just down the motorway.
Stokes ought to have been there to help but, having recently returned from a broken wrist, he was told to get more overs in his legs.
Bowling fast in Test cricket having only two County Championship matches after a long lay-off is only possible, apparently, if your name is Stuart Broad.
Durham are happy to enjoy Stokes while they can.
With the India series starting two days after their next Championship game, in four-day terms that probably means today and tomrrow.
They had better hope Graham Onions, who had a bowl on the outfield yesterday, is fit again by then.
Stokes’ early scalps were earned in part by the groundwork laid by John Hastings and Chris Rushworth.
Chris Nash edged Rushworth just in front of second, then first slip, and scrambled for his ground only for Paul Coughlin’s throw from cover to miss the stumps.
Luke Wells was still in single figures when he decided too late against a pull and looped the ball over the slips for four of the 11 runs Hastings conceded in a six-over burst.
The durability of the balls in this season’s Championship is pathetic – bad news for change bowlers
However the one Durham started with was so feeble it was replaced for the 18th over (it lasted four more than Sussex’s) before Stokes even came on.
As when Sussex changed theirs early on day one, the replacement seemed more responsive.
Stokes said: “Fortunately we got quite a hard ball with a big seam and it was very easy to shine.”
He needed just five deliveries with it before he struck.
Phil Mustard had a strange day. The wicketkeeper is badly out of form with bat and gloves and his cause was not helped by Stuart Poynter’s 42, catch and two stumpings for the seconds yesterday. Mustard is a class act but we may found out sooner rather than later if Ponyter was signed to provide competition.
On paper, Mustard did himself no harm either with four catches, but not before unwittingly creating two with careless hands.
When Wells edged, the diving Mustard could only knock the ball in the direction of Scott Borthwick, who reacted well. When he palmed one over the bar from Nash, Paul Collingwood clung on for Coughlin.
The danger of following Rushworth and Hastings is always that the pressure will be released.
Stokes’ greater threat normally comes with less economy but his first six overs produced as many scoring shots – three – as wickets.
He sent down snorters like the one Nash, on 28, was just able to get his hands out of the way of before it reared at him. Coughlin pitches the ball up in search of swing but after consecutive cover drives he pulled his length back and, as well as being harder to hit, instantly removed Nash.
The beauty of Stokes is he finds different ways of taking wickets.
After an away swinger had Rory Hamilton-Brown caught behind, Ed Joyce lost leg stump to a ball speared in and Ben Brown’s half-hearted attempt to play a bouncer saw him caught behind – off his shoulder, he protested in vain. Sussex had gone from 56-0 to 79-5 in 12 overs.
Steffan Piolet played on to give Stokes a five-wicket haul after lunch, the fourth of his career in all formats of the game. The only other for Durham was in 2011’s opening match.
With the ball finally wrestled from Stokes’ hands after 14 overs broken only by lunch, Hastings finally got his dues, James Tredwell edging to Borthwick and Steve Magoffin’s swipe picking out Mustard. Lewis fell to Stokes in similar fashion.
Only Luke Wright offered any resistance. He knew he had messed up when the two he hoped for from the start of Stokes’ 18th over turned out to be one. Given five balls to block, Lewis Hatchett managed one before playing on.
Durham extended the lead to 237 for the loss of Mark Stoneman.
Keaton Jennings is one shot short of a half-century and, less than a week after their first four-day win of 2014, Durham’s garden looks rosey.
Durham beat MCC Young Cricketers by 130 runs in the Second XI Trophy yesterday.