Sussex v Durham, Division 1, Hove, 2nd day May 12, 2014

Onions injury blow adds to Durham's woes

Sussex 505 for 9 (Wright 189, Brown 163, Rushworth 4-124, Wood 3-117) v Durham

Durham's thin squad, which was already up against it in attempting to defend their Championship title, has been dealt a further blow by the news that Graham Onions will need to see a specialist about his back problem. Onions only bowled eight overs on the first day and did not take the field on Monday, with Jon Lewis, Durham's coach, unwilling to speculate as to how long he could potentially be ruled out.

Durham were already without Jamie Harrison for this match due to injury, while his replacement, Usman Arshad, is also carrying a back problem that has limited him to 14 overs out of the 113.4 bowled against Sussex so far.

Travelling down by coach from the northeast has done nothing to ease such commonplace bowler discomforts and Durham will have to undertake a similarly taxing journey in the next round of the Championship, for their match against Somerset at Taunton.

"The mood's probably lifted by this drizzle," said Lewis, with a touch of gallows humour, after rain washed out most of the second day in Hove. The situation has heaped further weight on the shoulders of Chris Rushworth and Mark Wood, who is himself returning from an injury sustained with England Lions before the start of the season. Between them, they have already bowled more than 60 overs in this match.

Durham have received better news on Ben Stokes, though the allrounder who played such an important role in their Championship win is likely to be smuggled away by England at the earliest opportunity. Lewis said Stokes had "good scan results today" on the broken wrist he sustained in the Caribbean and will now resume training with bat and ball.

"The problem is, you lose Onions and that's bad, then Rushworth gets up to 34-35 overs in under four sessions and Woods up at 30-plus, in only his second game back - he bowled 30 in the first game back - you try to ease him back in after the injury he's had," Lewis said. "So then you run the risk of doing something wrong to Rushworth or Wood, which would set us back again. It's a juggling act, we want to win and they're important cricketers."

Without a win in their opening three games, Durham's title defence was already hobbling a little and clutching its back - now that is exactly what Onions, the attack leader, is doing too. He has taken exactly 200 first-class wickets for Durham since the start of the 2011 season but, having missed all of 2010 with a back injury that required surgery, a serious problem would raise fears about the 31-year-old's career prospects. Thoughts of an England recall are rapidly receding.

Durham's difficulties so far this season are perhaps best summed up by the fact that only two bowling points eluded them throughout the whole of last year; after struggling against Yorkshire last week, they have now dropped three in two matches.

Their current standing near the foot of the division suggests the prospect of a relegation battle rather than another title challenge - though Paul Collingwood continued to visibly rally his troops, gambolling energetically from slip to give Mark Stoneman at high five at point when stopping a shot during the morning session, in which only 17.4 overs were possible.

Sussex's handsome advantage was built on the back of a record stand between Luke Wright and Ben Brown, although another poor forecast for Tuesday may prevent them capitalising fully. The sixth-wicket pair only added nine more runs to the overnight score before being separated but both achieved career bests, Brown's 163 eclipsing the mark for Sussex's No. 7 that had stood since Jim Parks made 159 not out against Kent in 1950.

Rain interrupted play after one over from Wood, causing a 45-minute delay, and on the resumption Durham claimed their first wickets since shortly after lunch on the first day. Wright had just surpassed his previous best first-class score, made against Middlesex last summer, when he drove airily at Rushworth to be caught behind for 189 and end his partnership with Brown at 335.

Rushworth made it two in three balls when he also had Ashar Zaidi held at the wicket and Brown did not last much longer, Wood snaking one past the bat to hit off stump. The ninth wicket fell three balls too late to give Durham a third bowling point but the persistent showers on the south coast provided a depleted attack some welcome respite.

Alan Gardner is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @alanroderick