DURHAM are waiting on the fitness of Scott Borthwick before they can finalise their plans for Sunday’s opening County Championship match.
Captain Paul Collingwood and Graham Onions, who signed a two-year contract extension yesterday, were denied valuable match practice when rain saw the first scheduled day of cricket at Chester-le-Street in 2014 abandoned without a ball bowled, but the news Borthwick is struggling with a side strain is of far more concern.
The all-rounder is crucial to the balance of Collingwood’s team as he bats at No.3 while being the club’s only senior specialist red-ball spinner.
With Will Smith and Dale Benkenstein having joined Hampshire as player and coach respectively and Ben Stokes out with a fractured hand, Durham’s batting was already a concern.
They appear to have recognised that by entering into discussions with Kumar Sangakkara over a short-term deal.
Collingwood said: “There’s going to be chopping and changing to the batting line-up because we’re missing Benky and Will Smith.
“That’s the area we’ve really got to focus on to make sure we score enough runs.
“I guess it depends a little bit on Scotty Borthwick. He has a little bit of a side strain at the minute so we’re hoping he’s going to be fit for bowling next week.
“If he is, I know 100% what my line-up will be.”
If Borthwick is fully fit, Durham’s top six at Northampton on Sunday is likely to be Mark Stoneman, Keaton Jennings, Borthwick, Michael Richardson, Collingwood and Gordon Muchall.
If not, Durham will not want to play on a square which has produced Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar in recent years without a frontline spinner. Despite only being handed a limited-overs contract for 2014, Gareth Breese is likely to be given the job.
He is more likely to bat down the order, though, with Muchall vulnerable if Borthwick is fit to bat since he is the only batsman without a Championship winners’ medal from last season.
Durham have had talks with Sangakkara, one of the world’s best middle order batsmen.
He is unlikely to be signed in time to face Northamptonshire, but could play the remaining games until England’s Test series against Sri Lanka starts on June 12.
Sangakkara, who retired from Twenty20 cricket with a match-winning innings in Sunday’s World Championship final, averages 58 in 122 Test matches.
Collingwood joked: “I’ve been amazed watching the television myself so it looks like there must be something out there, but nothing’s been confirmed yet.”
Yesterday was due to be the 37-year-old’s first day of cricket this year, but he is relaxed about his lack of match practice.
He added: “The disappointment of being with England (where he was on the coaching staff for the World Twenty20) was missing the MCC game in Abu Dhabi but to be honest it’s not too difficult.
“I’m used to fitting back into it late on and as captain I’ve been in communication with JJ (coach Jon Lewis) as much as possible and I know where the guys are.
“I had a net session with them tand you can see they’ve put the work in. This game’s important to get back into the routine of bowling on English wickets so we need to get some time out in the middle.”