Jon Lewis has admitted Durham could have done with reinforcements in all departments of the squad, but they have had to settle for Australian John Hastings.
The bowling all-rounder will be the champions’ first fully-fledged overseas player for five years as they attempt to second-guess England’s summer plans.
Durham released Will Smith, Callum Thorp, Mitchell Claydon, Stephen Harmison and Ruel Brathwaite after last year’s County Championship success, and Dale Benkenstein has left to coach Hampshire. They could be without five more through international call-ups.
Ben Stokes has established himself as an England international in all forms of the game, while Scott Borthwick played in their last Test, in Sydney. Mark Wood made an impressive start to England Lions’ tour of Sri Lanka before injury, while Graham Onions’ reputation was enhanced by not touring Australia this winter.
Captain Paul Collingwood has reaffirmed his desire to play in his last season, but England could call him up on an ad hoc basis if their new head coach wants him as part of the set-up.
“We could have done with one or two of each (batsmen and bowlers) but we could only get one player in,” Lewis admitted.
“It was a bit of a tricky one trying to second-guess what would happen with Stokes, Onions, Wood – it’s the most unsettled England side I’ve known going into April. Normally at this time of year you can more or less name the team for the first Test.”
Counties are permitted one overseas player in the Championship, and two in the Twenty20 Cup. Although they have had Twenty20 imports since, Shivnarine Chanderpaul was Durham’s last overseas player in First-Class cricket, in 2009.
Hastings is their fourth winter signing, but the only senior player. Graham Clark and wicketkeeper Stuart Poynter played second-team cricket last year, while Scotland batsman Calum MacLeod – on loan for April – has made just 11 First-Class appearances.
Hastings has played 11 one-day and three Twenty20 internationals for Australia, plus one Test, against South Africa in 2012.
“We had a look around the world and we were looking for that type of player and person,” said Lewis. “John seemed to be a good fit.”
The Journal understands Hastings’ compatriots James Pattinson and Ben Hilfenhaus also came into consideration, as did New Zealand’s Douggie Bracewell.
Hastings could miss Durham’s first 10 competitive games of 2014 if Chennai Superkings reach the Indian Premier League final.
The county’s wage bill is comfortably within the salary cap – which they exceeded in 2012 – but there is no money for further signings. Durham were due to play in a prestigious one-day tournament in the run-up to Sunday’s game against the MCC in Abu Dhabi, but opted out.
The middle-order batting looks more of a worry than the bowling, but Lewis thinks otherwise.
“I’m not concerned,” the new head coach said of his batting resources. “We’ve got Callum MacLeod for the first month and hopefully he will do well. There will be some good gaps in the squad, but we felt if we’d got an overseas batsman in we could have been left short with one call-up from the bowlers.”