CASH-STRAPPED Durham will not be in the market for any overseas players until they can end Ian Blackwell’s contract.
That seems inevitable after a shoulder operation ensured the all-rounder will play little or no cricket next season.
However, finances are so tight at Chester-le-Street the Riversiders cannot afford an overseas player – even a Twenty20 specialist – until the final year of Blackwell’s deal is cancelled.
When that happens, Durham will search for a top-order batsman able to play all forms of the game, rather than a like-for-like replacement.
Jacques Rudolph and former player Ross Taylor could come under consideration.
That, says coach Geoff Cook, is all for the future.
He said: “Potentially Ian Blackwell leaving would give us a bit more room for manoeuvre when it comes to recruitment, but nothing has been sorted in terms of his contract.
“As far as we are concerned he is still under contract.
“Until we come to any agreement, we can’t start thinking about people coming in. It’s a question of getting that resolved first.”
Michael Di Venuto’s retirement halfway through last season leaves a top order packed with potential but worryingly light on experience. Mark Stoneman, Keaton Jennings and Michael Richardson finished the campaign as the top three, but none are proven in the County Championship.
In 2011 Durham breached county cricket’s salary cap, incurring a fine and points deduction.
That they cannot afford a Twenty20 player illustrates the balance sheet is the more pressing concern.
Overseas Twenty20 stars are not covered by the cap.
Last year Durham tried to sign the maximum two but were unable to find a suitable replacement when Mitchell Johnson’s international commitments forced his withdrawal.
Taylor was recently ousted as New Zealand captain but tweeted last week he hopes to be back in the frame soon.
If not, Durham are sure to be interested after his successful Twenty20 spell three years ago.
Former Surrey and Yorkshire batsman Rudolph could be a more realistic candidate.
The rapid emergence of Francois du Plessis may persuade Rudolph to turn his back on South Africa for county cricket a second time, as he did when becoming a Kolpak player at Yorkshire.
Were he to do so, other counties are sure to be interested as he averaged 52 in the Championship. Captain Paul Collingwood is determined to have Scott Borthwick as his first-choice spinner in 2013 but, unless a batsman is recruited who bowls spin (Rudolph bowls occasional leg breaks), Durham may be exposed in that area.
Borthwick is an England Lions regular and the club’s only other senior spinner – Gareth Breese – has been used as a one-day specialist.
In that regard Blackwell will be missed, even if he did fall from favour last season.
His final Durham game was in May, finishing the campaign on loan at champions Warwickshire.
Blackwell’s debut season at Durham was his best, named player of the year after his explosive batting and tight slow left-arm bowling helped them retain the Championship.
Cook added: “If Ian has played his last game for us, he’s been excellent for Durham and his statistics have been outstanding.”
PHIL Mustard makes his seasonal Bangladesh Premier League debut for Barisal Burners today. Mustard is in his second season as an overseas batsman with Barisal.