Lees seeks Durham revival as Yorkshire regret what might have been

Alex Lees pulls into the leg side Getty Images

Alex Lees, once hailed as one of the most exciting young batsman in the country, will attempt to revitalise a fading career with Durham. Lees leaves Yorkshire immediately on a loan until the end of the season before taking up a three-year contract.

Lees has been released by Yorkshire with a certain amount of regret. His departure continues a clearout that has already seen the England one-day quick Liam Plunkett move to Surrey on a three-year deal and could soon see his fellow pace bowler Jack Brooks, in good form of late in T20, follow to Somerset. Wicketkeeper Andrew Hodd has also announced his retirement as he has been supplanted by Johnny Tattersall.

Yorkshire have aspirations to bring players in, too, but with the new Rugby Stand putting their finances under strain, their budget is limited. Ben Duckett has been named as a possibility - his departure from Northants looks inevitable as he seeks to get his career back on track after a hugely under-performing season - and Surrey allrounder Matthew Pillans and Warwickshire legspinner Josh Poysden are also in the frame.

Poysden's arrival, however, no longer looks the logical move it once did, complicated by discussions continuing with Adil Rashid, now England's specialist Test legspinner, not that he bowled an over in their three-day defeat of India at Lord's. Yorkshire are anxious to settle their differences with Rashid, who they have nurtured since childhood, and who is a vital role model in his home city of Bradford, but his future status has been thrown into confusion by his call up to England's Test side.

"I fully expect him to excel when he moves on. This year has been tough for him and I think it has come to the point for him that it's the right thing to do" Martyn Moxon, Yorkshire director of cricket

Rashid's request for a white-ball only contract had identified him as a regular Yorkshire one-day player. His Test call came as a shock, and was joined by the suggestion from the national selector, Ed Smith, that next season England players must be available for red-ball cricket (IPL contracts notwithstanding). That leaves much to discuss about Rashid's terms of engagement.

Lees' departure has long looked inevitable: it is hard to think of a young county player whose career has declined so disappointingly; he has become one of county cricket's under-achievers.

Not so long ago, his opening partnership with Adam Lyth was briefly one of the most productive in Yorkshire's history, compared no less to Holmes and Sutcliffe, and Yorkshire's former coach, Jason Gillespie, thought so highly of him that he even made him Yorkshire's youngest captain since Lord Hawke when he put him in charge of the Twenty20 side at 22.

That experiment did not go well and Lees lost the role when Andrew Gale succeeded Gillespie as head coach. Lees' increasingly rare appearances possessed a certain lethargy and similarity of dismissals. In four Championship matches this season, he has mustered 50 runs at an average of 6.25.

Martyn Moxon said: "It's very much a case of mixed feelings. We'd very much prefer Alex to be scoring runs for us but obviously, this season, things haven't worked out for him. Having discussed it at length with him, I think it's generally felt by Alex and us, that for his future career, it's probably the right move. We wish him well and every success going forward.

"I fully expect him to excel when he moves on. It's incredibly difficult and this year has been tough for him and I think it has come to the point for him that it's the right thing to do; to make a clean break and have a fresh start. That's a difficult decision for him to make and we've spoken to him at length about that, but I think overall it's the right decision for him going forward."

Lees added: "I think naturally there's a bit of disappointment. I've probably been an important part of the team for the past five years or so and to now be leaving makes it bittersweet. I am looking forward to playing up at Durham now and playing more cricket.

"Under Jason Gillespie I probably flourished, but the last 16 months I just haven't been as fluent as I'd have hoped to be. It has been quite difficult and I haven't played much cricket, which I've found quite tough with my rhythm and fluidity, but I think a new challenge, a new set of players, new check-points and targets is something I'm looking forward to.

"There are a few stand-out moments and the obvious one is winning back to back Championships, getting my County cap is something I dreamed of from a very young age, and thirdly captaining the Club at a very young age; that sort of experience can only put me in good stead moving forward down the line. During that period we were a top team and I played a role in winning those Championships and that coincided with my cap and captaincy; it was a really great period for me.

"I know I can replicate that form and being just 25 makes me believe my best cricketing years are still ahead of me."

Durham believe they have signed a player of international pedigree. Head Coach, Jon Lewis, said: "We're delighted that Alex has signed for the club and believe that his experience and skillset will make him a perfect fit at Emirates Riverside.

"When an English batsman of his age and ability becomes available, it's a no brainer and we're pleased that he has chosen Durham as we were aware that other counties were looking at him.

"Adding him into our squad gives us great options across both red ball and white ball and we are looking forward to seeing him continue to develop during the coming years at Durham and put himself back in contention for an England spot."

Lees, 25, will be available for the club's Specsavers County Championship fixture against Glamorgan at Sophia Gardens on August 19 and joins a squad already certain of a quarter-final in the Vitality Blast.

He has played 89 First Class matches, scoring just shy of 5000 runs and averaging 34.53. His part in Yorkshire's back-to-back County Championship titles in 2014 and 2015 won him selection on England Lions trips to Sri Lanka and South Africa.