Plunkett shoulders heavy burden as injury-hit Durham challenge leaders

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The Independent Online

The Durham pace attack that takes to the field at Headingley today will be unrecognisable to the one that has played such a key role in driving the county to back-to-back titles. Not since Yorkshire 42 years ago has a county claimed a hat-trick of Championships and Durham's bid to follow suit is being hampered by a lengthening injury list.

Steve Harmison and Graham Onions sit out a third successive Championship game while Mitch Claydon will also miss out having suffered an abdominal strain that will keep him out for two weeks. The three of them contributed 123 wickets to Durham's challenge last season and it leaves Liam Plunkett to shoulder a hefty load against Yorkshire, who are making the early running in the First Division. Plunkett may be England's forgotten tourist, having carried high energy drinks around South Africa and Bangladesh over a frustrating winter, but he remains the centrepiece at Durham. His 55 wickets last season were more than Harmison or Onions.

It was Yorkshire who were once famous for whistling down pits to call up a succession of sturdy pacemen (with bowler's bottoms as Ray Illingworth likes to say), but it is now Durham who are tapping into a rich seam of talent, albeit one from above ground. Chris Rushworth, a 23-year-old from Sunderland, is the latest off the production line, although his development has been slow compared to the likes of Ben Stokes, the 18 year-old all-rounder who is already making an impact in the first-class game.

Yorkshire's seam attack will itself be diminished with Tim Bresnan and Ajmal Shahzad on England duty but there is some compensation in a Championship debut for Tino Best, the West Indies fast bowler.

The game could also pit two promising English leg-spinners against each other – a sight as rare as a working English coal mine. Scott Borthwick, 20, has impressed in his first season, while Adil Rashid has made a steady start as he seeks to regain some of the ground he lost over the winter.

Lancashire entertain Kent at Old Trafford having won both their opening games, although they will have to do without West Indies-bound Jimmy Anderson, a key man in last week's victory over Essex. Oliver Newby is his likely replacement. Kent have lost James Tredwell to England as well but the veteran South African Makhaya Ntini is in line for his debut.

Hampshire, who like Warwickshire, their opponents today, and Somerset, have lost both their opening games, will not be able to play their new overseas signing, Rangana Herath, the Sri Lankan left-armer, as he is still held up at home in the wake of the other ashes saga.