Durham v Lancashire, T20 preview: County will come before country in deciding Stokes' role

Durham will consider England's wishes before deciding Ben Stokes' Twenty20 role for them, but it will not dictate their ideas

Ben Stokes
Ben Stokes

Durham will consider England’s feelings before finalising Ben Stokes’ Twenty20 role this season, but their own needs will come first.

The all-rounder makes his first appearance this season in the format at home to Lancashire tonight, before ludicrously returning to Trent Bridge tomorrow for a second game of the week.

If Durham coach Jon Lewis is able to speak to his England counterpart Peter Moores in time, he will factor the Three Lions’ thoughts into his plans.

But finding the best job for Stokes with the bat may not be straightforward.

“I don’t need to know, but I would be interested to know if they (England) have a plan for where he will bat in Twenty20 cricket,” Lewis said.” He was kind of flirting around the three spot, then he stopped flirting with the three spot! I don’t know where Pete Moores sees as his best spot.

“We’ll play him in what we think is his best spot until we hear otherwise.”

In keeping with the general theme of England’s muddled Twenty20 thinking, Stokes has had no consistency in international Twenty20 cricket, where he is yet to make an impact, despite it being the format which seems most suited to his explosive game.

Although he has only batted in five games, Stokes has never been in the same position twice for his country. He started at No.3, making his top score of 31 from 23 balls against West Indies in his first bat there.

Injury delayed his next international T20 appearance by two years, and when it came, it was at seven.

In the winter, England tried him at three again, but by the time they reached West Indies for their World Championship preparations, he was back to the middle order.

Understanding your role is an important part of white-ball cricket, and Stokes could be forgiven for not really knowing what is expected of him. It shows in his statistics, averaging just 12 in the 20-over game, never having reached double figures since that initial innings at The Oval.

Last year nine of his 11 Twenty20 Cup appearances came at five, with the others at four, and his batting was a huge factor in Durham reaching the quarter-finals.

But much as the Riversiders want to help England, they also have to look after their own interests. Calum MacLeod identified himself as a potential star of the tournament, making 80 not out on his debut in the opening game against Worcestershire, and will surely bat there again tonight.

Paul Collingwood won the man-of-the-match award in part for his 62 from 38 deliveries batting at five.

With Scott Borthwick out because of two finger injuries to his right hand, Stokes may slot between the pair.

“I’m open to the conversation if they (England) would like to say (what they are planning), but I’m not saying we’ll bend over for them,” Lewis commented. “MacLeod did really well for us, so I’m not in a rush to change that spot.

“Four might be an option for him. He batted at five or six for us last year but he’s a better player now, so there might be an opportunity for him to move a little higher.

“We need to be flexible in our T20 batting order, and that’s something we were in our first game. A little flexibility might be the way to go.”

Borthwick may try to defy the pain of his cracked fingers to play against Middlesex in Sunday’s County Championship game at Chester-le-Street, but Durham were conscious of the fact that Twenty20 cricket leaves nowhere to hide in the field.

The bigger picture for Stokes is Test cricket, with England’s first game of the summer against Sri Lanka at Lord’s starting on June 12.

The all-rounder made his comeback from a broken wrist at Trent Bridge this week, and while pleased with his batting, Collingwood admitted there is more work to be done with the ball by the star of England’s winter Ashes series.

“Bowling-wise he’s probably not ahead of schedule,” the former England all-rounder cautioned. “I joked with him that I probably had him covered in terms of his mph. He didn’t take too well to that!

“But the way he batted shows he’s really matured when it comes to scoring runs. I think the winter’s shown him how to go about scoring runs. He took his time to begin with and tried to find his feet but he knew he needed time in the middle.

“He’s hard to rein back. He’s always wanting that extra over, to play squash in the courts at the back and do things he shouldn’t, but he’s one of those kids that want to get out and compete. It was like a pre-season game for him in terms of his fitness but it’s great he got three-fer and (61) runs as well.

“He’s certainly a lot closer than people would have imagined. His bowling’s got to get back to 100% pace to be effective at Test level but hopefully he can do that in the next (Championship) match.”

Thanks to a bizarre brainwave by someone in county cricket’s fixture planning department, Durham will tomorrow jump on a bus to Nottinghamshire tomorrow, having only left there yesterday afternoon following this week’s rain-affected draw in the Championship.

Mark Wood will be assessed this morning after he missed the game at Trent Bridge with a sore side.

“We don’t want to rush him if he’s not right,” stressed limited-over captain Mark Stoneman.

Entry to tonight’s match is only £1 for children, while adult tickets are two for £20. Supporters are being encouraged to wear red, the colour of both sides. Play is scheduled to start at 5.30pm.

DURHAM (from): Stoneman (c), Mustard (wk), MacLeod, Stokes, Collingwood, Muchall, Breese, Pringle, Arshad, Wood, Rushworth, Richardson, Jennings, Coughlin.


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