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Stephen Cook completes Durham overseas deal

Stephen Cook leaves during a watchful opening spell AFP

Durham have confirmed the signing of South Africa batsmen Stephen Cook for the first half of the 2017 season.

Cook will sign as an overseas player, much to the relief of CSA as it contends with an influx of players into county cricket on Kolpak registrations, so ending their international careers, at least for the foreseeable future.

Kyle Abbott (Hampshire), Hardus Viljoen (Derbyshire), Simon Harmer (Essex), Rilee Rossouw (Hampshire) and David Wiese and Stiaan van Zyl (Sussex) have all signed Kolpak deals, although last week Dean Elgar shunned the opportunity when he was confirmed on an overseas player deal with Somerset.

For Cook to resist the lure of a Kolpak deal at the ripe old age of 34 - precisely when it is deemed most attractive - is particularly striking. Forced to wait until late in his career for a chance at international level, he is in no mood to concede it.

Durham always pursued the overseas player route with Cook. Even if they had proposed a Kolpak option, which they did not, it is questionable whether the ECB would have allowed it. Since Durham were saved from administration by re-forming as a community interest club, with the ECB agreeing a £3.8m rescue package, the county can expect to be monitored closely by the central body for what is viewed as acceptable behaviour.

As well as Championship matches for Durham, who were relegated to Division Two with a 48-point penalty, Cook will also play in the Royal London One-Day Cup before joining South Africa's Test squad for the four-match series against England later in the summer.

With two heavy top-order run-makers, Mark Stoneman and Scott Borthwick, moving to Surrey, and Calum MacLeod and the long-serving fringe batsman Gordon Muchall also released, Durham will be desperate for Cook to provide ballast as an opener.

Cook burst on to the international scene and scored a century in his first Test innings against England last January, the last Test player to achieve the feat before his new Durham team-mate Keaton Jennings. He has already chalked up two further hundreds in a nine-match Test career, at an average of 41.

Jon Lewis, Durham's head coach, said: "We have been looking to add quality to the squad but also the right character to fit into the dressing room, and we have found someone who has both of those assets in Steve.

"Our conversations have been very promising and he comes to us with a fine reputation, built not only through his short international career so far but throughout an excellent first-class record over many years in South Africa and we are looking forward to welcoming him into the changing room."