DURHAM are hoping for a timely boost from all-rounder Ben Stokes after a disappointing weekend in the County Championship.
Geoff Cook’s side went down to heavy nine-wicket defeat away to Somerset yesterday – only their second loss in the four-day game this term.
And while Durham still lead the Division One table, results went against them elsewhere with Lancashire and Warwickshire both winning – against Yorkshire and Sussex respectively.
Those results mean Durham, who had led by 23 points going into the latest round of fixtures, are now just five points clear of Lancashire and 13 ahead of Warwickshire, with both teams having a game in hand on the leaders.
The return of the big-hitting Stokes would certainly be a shot in the arm for Durham’s title hopes.
The youngster was in top form before suffering the broken finger, which has kept him out for the past eight weeks.
Stokes has hit 609 runs in the County Championship so far this season, hitting three centuries and averaging 50.75.
His last innings in the four-day game before injury saw him hit a magnificent 185 from 272 balls against Lancashire.
He has also weighed in with 17 wickets in the competition so far.
Stokes returned to action for Durham Academy at the weekend, scoring 43 in their win over Benwell Hill on Saturday, and 75 not out in their Premier League T20 semi-final win over South Northumberland yesterday (though Durham lost in the final to Chester-le-Street).
Stokes could also feature for a Durham XI, which plays host to Sri Lanka A at the Emirates ICG, which starts on Wednesday, and is hoping to return to first-team duty in the next week or two.
Yesterday, Durham’s hopes of hanging on for the draw were put to the sword as home bowlers Charl Willoughby and Alfonso Thomas cut through any resistance offered by the visiting batsmen.
It all looked ominous early on for the men from the Emirates ICG, when despite Mitchell Claydon’s career best figures of 6-104, Somerset post a first innings total of 480 all out.
Durham’s reply never got going and having been bowled out for 220 the visitors were forced to follow on.
A spirited 114 from Will Smith provided a glimmer of hope that a draw might be salvaged but Willoughby (4-80) and Thomas (3-73)made sure that was short-lived as they had Durham all out for 378.
Somerset had 43 left to reach their target, and were dealt an early blow as Graham Onions got dangerman Marcos Trescothick to play the ball on to his stumps for 25.
But the hosts were never in danger as Arul Suppiah hit 66 not out to guide them to 119-1 inside 22 overs.
The win sees Somerset move to fourth in the league table, while also splitting the title race wide open.
Durham are next in action at home to Warwickshire in a Pro40 contest on Sunday, and play host to Nottinghamshire in a County Championship match, which starts next Tuesday.