One of Durham’s batsmen will have to make way for Kumar Sangakkara tomorrow – but coach Jon Lewis says they can have no complaints.
The Sri Lanka legend makes his debut at home to Yorkshire in the County Championship.
Five of Durham’s top seven have scored half-centuries in the opening two games of the season. The exceptions are Mark Stoneman and Scott Borthwick, last season’s top-scorers.
However, as Lewis points out, none have posted a score which makes them undroppable.
He said: “They are playing well, but they all know two games into the season on two reasonable batting surfaces and no hundreds against their names is not what we would call good.
“It’s not bad because everyone is playing well, but it’s not what we call good, so nobody can say they have nailed themselves into the side quite yet because they haven’t put out a big one. That goes for all of them, to be fair.”
Either Michael Richardson or, more likely, Gareth Breese will probably make way for Sangakkara.
Richardson is second in Durham’s early-season averages and Breese fifth. Breese played in the first two games as a second spinner who bats, his experience as much a factor as his cricket.
However, the Jamaican bowled just three overs and is unlikely to send down many more over four days at Chester-le-Street.
With 547 international caps to his name, Sangakkara can replace Durham’s oldest player and still make them more experienced.
The 36-year-old normally bats at three in Test cricket, but may come in at four against Yorkshire with Richardson dropping to five and Phil Mustard reverting to his more normal position of seven.
Lewis added: “The indications from him (Sangakkara) are, ‘wherever is best for the team is where I’ll play,’ which is an encouraging conversation, but we may have a lot of left-handers at the top.”
Durham’s usual top three of Keaton Jennings, Stoneman and Borthwick are all left-handed.
Chester-le-Street is a notoriously difficult place to bat – at least in the first innings – especially early in the season.
It holds good memories for Sangakkara, who scored the winning runs there in a 2006 one-day international and 59 and 119 for Warwickshire in 2007.
With only this match and another at Sussex before he joins his country’s limited-overs squad for a series against England, Sangakkara needs to hit the ground running.
Lewis said: “I would imagine it would be tricky, particularly coming to the North East from Colombo.
“However, he is a well-travelled guy. He has played cricket all over the world, so he knows what he is coming into.
“He has played here, he knows it’s a challenging surface at times – it was one of the reasons he wanted to come.
I am confident if anyone is capable, he is capable. His wealth of experience in all forms and all conditions will help him, and his determination to do well will be a big part of it as well.
“He’s not here for the ride, he’s here to make an impact – yes to prepare himself (for Sri Lanka’s tour of England) but to make an impact for Durham.”
Most important for the champions is the fact their talented youngsters learn as much as possible from a man who has captained and kept wicket for his country and who was man of the match in last month’s World Twenty20 final.
As well as his two Championship appearances, Sangakkara will also feature in Friday’s Twenty20 benefit game for Breese and Gordon Muchall, where the Riversiders take on a Durham Legends side which will include Ottis Gibson and Shivnarine Chanderpaul.
The game is at Durham School from 4pm.
The hosts will choose between Mark Wood and Usman Arshad tomorrow after fast bowler Wood’s five-wicket haul in a second-team limited-overs friendly against Scotland this week.
Ashington-born Wood injured his side on England Lions’ winter tour of Sri Lanka and has been feeling his way back since.
The Riversiders have missed his extra pace – and that of Ben Stokes, who is still missing with a broken wrist – on the flat pitches they encountered at Northampton in the opening game and on the final day at home to Somerset.
Both games were drawn, with Durham unable to take 10 wickets on the last day.
Yorkshire were Durham’s closest title rivals last season and led Division One for much of the campaign before being reeled in during its closing weeks.
Lewis added: “We had two cracking games against them last year, the home side losing on both occasions, which is quite unusual.
“It will be a good test. We are not sure what the Yorkshire side will be.”
Joe Root and Gary Ballance are unavailable, having been picked in England’s one-day squad for next week’s friendly in Scotland, but fit-again Jonny Bairstow and Tim Bresnan are.
Yorkshire captain Andrew Gale must decide if he can be recalled, having dropped himself for this week’s incredible defeat at Middlesex to make room for Root.
Lewis said: “They have put together a good squad over the last two years, so whatever Yorkshire side comes up will be competitive and it will be a test for us.”<p/>
DURHAM (probable): Stoneman, Jennings, Borthwick, Sangakkara, Richardson, Collingwood, Mustard (wk), Wood, Harrison, Onions, Rushworth.