Durham gain psychological edge but rue Stokes' physical frailties

Lancashire 313 & 148 Durham 586 (Durham win by an innings and 125 runs)
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The Independent Online

Durham's victory over their closest pursuers at the halfway point in the Championship season was emphatic, the margin an innings and 125 runs, the job done 20 minutes after lunch on the final afternoon. It gives them a 17-point lead, although Lancashire have a game in hand.

But the temptation to assume the pennant is being packaged up for a return to the Riverside, where it stayed for two years in a row before Nottinghamshire claimed it back last year, is a leap of expectation. Things can change. Indeed, they already have for Durham, whose pleasure at a third consecutive maximum points haul was tempered by the news that Ben Stokes, the potentially world-class all-rounder who scored 180 here on Monday, will be out for six to eight weeks.

Stokes, who is 20 on Saturday, has a dislocated right index finger complicated by ligament damage, sustained in the field late on Monday. It is a blow to Durham but equally to the player, who impressed the England selector James Whitaker so much with the quality of his batting and bowling here that a call-up to the one-day side was beginning to look a possibility.

"Ben has had a superb start to the season and made a fantastic improvement in the last month in his mental approach," said the Durham director of cricket, Geoff Cook. "It is disappointing for him and disappointing for the England selectors if they were thinking of including him. But he still has years and years in front of him."

With Steve Harmison troubled by a back injury and Paul Collingwood yet to discover how his repaired knee will respond to competitive action, there may be more setbacks ahead.

Yet there is an edge for Durham over Lancashire in the size of their respective squads. Where Durham are able to bring in fresh faces for the Twenty20, for which there is a two-week pause in the Championship, and rest others, Lancashire have less scope.

"We have 17 players and if we pick up a few injuries we will be under a bit of pressure," admitted the Lancashire coach, Peter Moores.

Those on the field yesterday, for the first time this season, were a little lacking in fight, as if the task of batting through, three down and still 204 behind, looked simply like it was just too much for them.

"I'd like to have seen them bat for longer because it was a pitch where if you got in you could be difficult to get out," Moores said. "But sometimes you have to accept that a team has played better than you."

Beaten captain Glen Chapple echoed those words, but with a caveat. "Their batsmen are hot at the moment. They're making the right decisions, they're timing the ball. But that can change. I wouldn't write anybody off." The wily Cook is thinking along similar lines. "This result has given us a bit of a lead but I don't think it has any particular significance. They [Lancashire] still have a game in hand and the pattern of the Championship this season is that everybody seems to be beating everybody else."