Test Match Sofa
Durham happy to see Plunkett go
By Tim Wellock
Yorkshire are taking an even bigger gamble in handing Liam Plunkett a three-year contract than they did in taking Steve Harmison on a month’s loan. After striving in vain in recent times to persuade the pair to bowl straight, Durham would have been happy to offload both from their excessive wage bill.
They have had to honour a pledge to award Harmison a benefit in the final year of his contract, but the huge disappointment of being unable to resurrect Plunkett’s talent will be tempered by relief that another county is prepared to shoulder the burden.
Durham gambled in the fifth match of the season when, with Graham Onions unavailable and Ben Stokes injured, they selected Harmison and Plunkett to play at Taunton. The move backfired as both bowled erratically, Plunkett taking none for 69 in 12 overs in the first innings. He wasn’t called upon to bowl in the second and it proved to be his only County Championship appearance of the season.
None of this should be seen as a reflection on Durham’s coaching staff as their efforts reaped rich rewards with Chris Rushworth and Stokes this season, while Mark Wood’s maiden five-wicket haul at Trent Bridge showed he has a first-class future.
Plunkett is still only 27, but it is seven years since he played the first of his nine Tests and the more coaches he has worked with in that time the more wayward his bowling has become.
In 2011 he played in only the first two games and there were encouraging signs in the second when he bowled a hostile spell in the final session at Headingley and his three wickets helped Durham to victory. He suffered a thigh injury in the process and didn’t reappear until the Twenty20 competition, by which time his accuracy had disappeared again.
Durham announced that he would undergo lengthy rehabilitation in the winter, going back to basics in his bowling action, which had undergone some tinkering by the England coaches several years ago in an effort to alleviate back problems.
Hopes were high at the start of the 2012 season that the work would pay dividends, but while there were occasional signs in the Twenty20 that he was getting back to his old self, he ended the competition with an Achilles injury and didn’t play again.
Middlesbrough-born Plunkett initially attracted Yorkshire’s attention as a schoolboy batsman, but it was Durham’s Geoff Cook who spotted his potential as a bowler and took him into the academy. He made his first-class debut, aged 18, in 2003 against Durham University and a few weeks later he took five for 53 on his Championship debut at Headingley.
It was not the only time he performed well at Headingley, showing his prowess with the bat there in 2009, when Durham were heading for defeat until he contributed 65 to the county’s record eighth-wicket stand of 147 with Phil Mustard in the second innings.
The same pair had put on 143 at the ground the previous year, but by the time Durham clinched their first Championship title at the end of that season Plunkett was out of the team.
He was a regular over the next two seasons and took 49 wickets when the title was retained in 2009. But his accuracy became a recurring problem and he also has to live with the reputation of being a slightly wayward character following his second conviction for drink-driving.
Martyn Moxon, the Yorkshire director of cricket, is prepared to overlook all that. Having worked with Plunkett during his six years as Durham’s coach, he knows what he is dealing with and describes him as “a wholehearted cricketer with considerable talent”. Moxon added: “He has what it takes to regain a place in the England side.”
Another Teessider, Mark Davies, has enjoyed an excellent season after leaving Durham for Kent. But fitness, not accuracy, was the issue with Davies and Plunkett’s radar has been off beam for too long to be easily rectified.
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