While Steve Harmison’s injury troubles continue, Durham report that Ben Stokes is ahead of schedule in his recovery from a second operation on his badly dislocated finger.
After working his way back towards full fitness, Harmison was to have accompanied six other Durham bowlers on a trip to South Africa in the first two weeks of March. But the former England paceman will not be travelling after turning an ankle during fielding practice in the indoor school.
Harmison suffered a similar injury when he stood on a football in a pre-match kickabout, ruling him out of the last two months of last season. That was his second freak injury of the campaign as he was struck on the arm at the non-striker’s end by a fierce drive from Phil Mustard in the opening match.
It is hoped Harmison will be fit for the start of the championship programme, at home to Nottinghamshire on April 12, but he is known to need plenty of bowling to find his rhythm and might not have the necessary practice behind him.
Stokes is among those going to South Africa for what is seen as essential bowling practice as he seeks to bolster his credentials as an all-rounder. He was unable to bowl at the end of last season because the surgery to repair his hand was not fully successful.
He went to the USA for another operation, and Durham coach Geoff Cook said: “He’s way ahead of schedule in his recovery and is now full on in bowling, batting and fielding.
“Every time he turns on the television and watches England playing it will spur him on. He’s looking really good and strong.”
Mitch Claydon, Liam Plunkett and Chris Rushworth are the other senior bowlers making the trip and they will be joined by Academy players Josh Bousfield and Usman Arshad.
Barbados-born Ruel Brathwaite was not considered because Durham need to be wary about the number of days he spends out of the country as he seeks permanent residential status. It is hoped that will be granted at the end of March.
“Ruel is desperately keen to become a regular member of the side,” said Cook. “He did well when he played last season and in retrospect he probably should have played a bit more, although the team was doing well.
“Mark Wood is now on a full-time contract, Mark Davies has started bowling again and we still have Callum Thorp, so there will be a lot of competition for bowling places, especially if Graham Onions is available.”