Further doubt was cast on the wisdom of cricketers playing football as part of their warm-up routine when Steve Harmison suffered his second freak injury of the season.
A sprained ankle ruled him out of much-needed match practice against Sri Lanka A and, even if he recovers quickly, he will present Durham with a selection dilemma for their five-game title run-in.
Harmison played only half of Durham’s County Championship matches last year, when he allowed his fitness to decline when it became clear that his England career was over. He was in better shape at the start of this season but he was struck on the arm at the non-striker’s end by a drive from Phil Mustard in the opening game at the Rose Bowl. He struggled to bowl three overs in the match then missed the next four.
After playing his part in back-to-back wins at Worcester and Edgbaston, and declaring himself happy with a shortened run-up, he was absent from the home win against Lancashire and was not selected during the Friends Life t20 series.
He had clearly lost form on his return to action and has bowled 11 wides in his last two appearances, while recording figures of none for 65 in ten overs at Taunton last week.
Durham’s bowling coach, Alan Walker, said: “Steve and Liam Plunkett both needed to bowl in this match. We have been here before with them and they both need to bowl some overs and get in a rhythm.
“Steve hasn’t been able to do that and Liam bowled slightly better as he went on. He has a couple of technical issues, but it’s a fine line between working on those and just letting him run in and bowl.
“He has to be tough mentally. We don’t just want a quick fix – he has to hang in there. Things weren’t going as he wanted, but he never threw the towel in and he stuck to what we are working on. He got a wicket with a good ball in the end.”
Plunkett needs regular bowling but tends to break down if overworked, as he did when a hostile spell in the final session at Headingley clinched victory in this season’s second match. He hasn’t played in the Championship since and bowled five wides and five no-balls in Sri Lanka A’s first innings.
Meanwhile, leg-spinning all-rounder Scott Borthwick tuned up for his first England Lions appearance at Scarborough next week by giving the Sri Lankans a taste of what to expect.
Facing the same opponents in successive weeks, he opened the batting for Durham after the tourists made 203 and passed his previous first-class best of 68 just before the close of the first day. He then completed his century the following morning before holing out at long-on, while Ben Stokes, who is in the Lions’ one-day squad, made only four on his return after a two-month absence with a badly-dislocated finger.