Even with two of their leading bowlers being treated like pin cushions at the moment, coach Jon Lewis believes Durham’s attack is starting to look at its potent best.
It is one of the more remarkable statistics of the County Championship season the holders entertain Lancashire tomorrow still to take 20 wickets in a four-day match.
Graham Onions and Jamie Harrison will again be missing through injury at Chester-le-Street, but still Lewis sees enough firepower to put that sorry statistic right.
Onions has been out with a back injury since his opening-day spell at Hove on May 11 and seems to have been close to a return ever since.
Rest and injections have been the main approach thus far, and that is still the solution. Lewis said: “Graham Onions is not going to be available this week.
“He is going to have more injections in his back on Monday so he’s probably another two weeks away.
“We thought we were going to get him back ten days ago but he felt a problem in the nets the day before he was due to play for the second team.”
Onions’ problem is particularly alarming because it has occurred in his back, where a stress fracture wiped out his 2010 season and almost ended his career.
That the preferred solution appears to lie in a needle hardly inspires confidence either.
Lewis added: “I wouldn’t say they’re in the dark but it’s still a little bit investigative,” Lewis explained. “Hopefully these investigations get to the bottom of the problem.
“He’s done well to get over his previous back issues, so he’s understandably cautious about this. He needs to get things right and so do we. We’re all in the same boat on that.”
Harrison has been missing since injuring his knee a week later. He will also miss out against Lancashire.
“Jamie Harrison had injections to his knee on Thursday afternoon,” said Lewis. “It’s partially to clear things up, partially to reduce the swelling. We’re hopeful it will settle down now and he can start bowling – or at least build-up to bowling – next week.”
But with all-rounder Ben Stokes overlooked by England and Australian John Hastings having finally started his stint as Durham’s overseas player, Durham still have a strong attack to call on. The pair played against Middlesex in the Riversiders’ last game – Hastings’ debut – backed up by Chris Rushworth and Mark Wood, with Scott Borthwick providing the spin option.
Having dominated that game until the rain intervened, Durham could well go in with the same quintet again.
“Against Middlesex we came close to our full performance,” Lewis reflected. “We’re encouraged by that.
“The attack is getting stronger as the season goes on. Even the fact that Gavin Main has made his first-team debut for us makes things look better. When he gets his next opportunity he will be better for that.”
Durham go into the game on the back of a free week, something which will have been of particular benefit to Rushworth.
Only three seam bowlers (Jack Brooks, Tim Murtagh and Alfonso Thomas) have sent down more than Rushworth’s 214.4 overs in this season’s Division One County Championship. It is not as if Twenty20 cricket has provided much release recently either.
Rushworth’s final-over heroics won May’s game at Nottinghamshire but, as he revealed in his Journal column this week, he was the subject of much internet abuse after conceding 16 runs in the last over as they were beaten at Worcester a week ago today. Lewis commented: “Chris Rushworth is looking good for having had a few days off. He looked fresh for it when he came back to training this week.
“Chris had a tough over against Notts in the Twenty20 to win that game and if you take on the death overs you have to accept that you’re not always going to come out on top.” Wood has taken nine wickets in his last two completed innings, bowling at the sort of pace which will excite the England selectors. He and Stokes give Durham a dimension they lacked in the early part of the season with their extra pace and creativity. The key for them is just keeping the 24-year-old from Ashington fit.
“He’s a quality impact bowler,” Lewis said. “For the first two games he was basically in pre-season. We’ve found a role which suits him in the bowling group we have. Rather than bowling a large amount of overs he has a large impact.
“He’s got the ability to move the ball in and away.”
After seven winless matches – six of them drawn – Durham are in the First Division relegation zone, two points behind Lancashire with a game in hand. The Red Rose could hand a debut to Australian top-order batsman Usman Khawaja.
Durham yesterday handed a first professional contract to Calum MacLeod.
The 25-year-old has been on loan from Scotland in the opening weeks of the season and although he has only played Twenty20 cricket for the first team, he has made a big impression. Only Rob Key, James Vince, Dawid Malan and Tom Smith have scored more in the competition, and none have a higher average than his 69.33.
He has also captained Durham’s second team recently. MacLeod was spotted in the winter by Paul Collingwood, who was on Scotland’s coaching staff in the qualifying tournaments for the 50 and 20-over World Cups.
DURHAM (from): Stoneman, Jennings, Borthwick, Richardson, Stokes, Collingwood (c), Muchall, Mustard (wk), Hastings, Wood, Rushworth, Arshad, Coughlin, Main.
At: Chester-le-Street, tomorrow (day one of four), 11am.