Scott Borthwick's Ashes call-up leaves Durham with questions to ponder

After a Festive season of giving to England, Durham might need to think about receiving a new player in 2014

Scott Borthwick of Durham CCC
Scott Borthwick of Durham CCC

It has already been a fantastic Christmas for Durham County Cricket Club. Actually, scratch that. It has been a fantastic Christmas for Durham’s players.

If new coach Jon Lewis declared himself “delighted and terrified” by Ben Stokes’ Test debut this month, that was not the half of it.

Scott Borthwick has been added to England’s squad for the Boxing Day Ashes Test, while Mark Wood will now join him on England Lions’ New Year tour of Sri Lanka.

If Durham got lucky in 2013 because England’s selectors did not realise what a good bowler Graham Onions was, their County Championship title success has wised them up to the talent continuing to come off the Chester-le-Street production line.

While the county are delighted at the welter of good news, it raises questions about how they will defend their title in 2014.

We should not get too far ahead of ourselves. Monty Panesar is still the most likely to replace the retired Graeme Swann at Melbourne this week, but even before the off-spinner called it quits, team director Andy Flower floated the possibility that the building for the future might start now, rather than at home next summer. If it does, logic would point to 23-year-old Borthwick over a slow left-armer who will be 32 by then.

Borthwick still has improving to do as a bowler and the 2015 tour of West Indies might be a more realistic time for his Test debut if he can do it.

But having already pared their squad back to the bone because of financial constraints, Durham will be in trouble if he is thrown into the deep end now.

“At this rate I’m gonna have to resort to (Mark Stoneman’s) filthy off spin for @DurhamCricket next season,” was Paul Collingwood’s jokey tweeted response to Borthwick’s call-up.

Since Ian Blackwell retired just under a year ago, Borthwick has been Durham’s only senior four-day spinner. Gareth Breese, a soon-to-be 38-year-old former West Indies international, remains but the contract he signed in the autumn was to play limited-overs cricket. It does not bar him from the four-day game, but shows how the club view him.

Even Will Smith’s occasional off-spin is gone after he was one of five released in the cost-cutting.

Losing Borthwick’s bowling, though, is manageable. Spin only plays a bit-part role on the Chester-le-Street ground where half Durham’s fixtures are played.

The club are getting used to losing players to England and their response is usually just to give another youngster a chance.

The two Ryans – Buckley in the four-day game and Pringle with the white ball – enjoyed impressive debut seasons in 2013 to earn new contracts (Pringle’s was again for one-day cricket). While ideally they might be given a little more time to find their feet, the moral of last season was that if you show faith in well-coached, talented young cricketers they can surprise you with just how good they are.

The bigger loss if Borthwick is fast-tracked would be his batting. He was a revelation at No 3 in 2013, Durham’s Championship top-scorer.

Were Stokes, Smith and Borthwick all taken out of Durham’s top six with only a hopefully fit-again Dale Benkenstein coming in, it would leave a big hole.

A summer England central contract for Stokes is a near-certainty, one for Borthwick an outside bet. Durham would be well advised to consider investing the wages saved in a new batsman.

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