Stephen Cook has made an impressive start to his Test career © AFP
Durham hope to complete the signing of Stephen Cook as an overseas player within the next few days.
While Cook, the South Africa opening batsman, has not yet signed a contract and any deal is subject to approval from the ECB due to Durham’s straightened circumstances following their bailout last year, it is anticipated that he will be available to the county for the first three months of the English season before he joins his South Africa teammates for the Test series against England.
There will be relief in South Africa that Cook has resisted the temptation to sign as a Kolpak registration. Aged 34, there might have been a temptation to secure his financial future with a long-term deal but, having waited a long time for his opportunity in international cricket – he made his debut only a year ago, scoring a century on debut against England – Cook has clearly decided he has not had his fill of it yet.
Durham are not keen on the Kolpak option, either. Despite losing 10 players over the last few months – most due to their financial troubles that has seen their salary bill cut by 50% in five years – their head coach, Jon Lewis, told ESPNcricinfo that the club still took pride in producing players for England and would be reluctant to go down the Kolpak route.
“We have taken a hit in recent times, but it doesn’t change what we are about as a club,” he said. “I’m not going to completely rule out the Kolpak option for us, but nothing is planned now and it isn’t something we would do in an ideal world. We are more likely to look at a loan deal to bring a young English player into the club.
“2016 was a tough year for us. It was brutal. And we had to say goodbye to some good players – including some good young players – that we wouldn’t have done in other circumstances. But if there is any club that could cope, it was us and we are through that not. We are looking forward and we are optimistic about the future.”
The club also lost one of their brightest young talents – Asher Hart – to Hampshire at the end of last season. “They offered him a lot more money,” Lewis admitted phlegmatically. “What can you do? We didn’t want to lose him at all, but you can’t blame him.”
While declining to confirm Cook as the club’s new signing, Lewis did provide a brief character outline. “We needed the right character,” he said. “We needed the right quality as a player and the right quality as a person. We have scoured lone and hard and we think we have that now.”
The club are also talking to overseas players about filling Cook’s position while he is on international duty. Tom Latham, the New Zealand batsman, is currently a favoured candidate though it is understood no contract has yet been agreed.
Due to the loan agreed by the ECB in October to keep Durham afloat, any signing will have to be agreed by officials at Lord’s before it can be confirmed.
But with the club having lost two of their top three (Scott Borthwick and Mark Stoneman both left for new opportunities with Durham) and Hampshire, who finished below Durham at the end of the Championship season, having just signed two Kolpak registrations and one of Durham’s better young players, it would seem monstrously harsh to allow them to sign a replacement. Having already been relegated, though, and facing a 48-point deficit at the start of the Championship season, some might suggest Durham are used to being treated harshly.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo
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Source: ESPN Crickinfo