Durham sign South Africa opener Stephen Cook

Cook, who made a century on his debut against England at Centurion a year ago and has since gone on to establish himself at the top of the order, will be available in Specsavers County Championship Division Two.

The 34-year-old will also feature in the Royal London Cup before joining the Test leg of South Africa's tour of England in July and August.

Durham, controversially relegated at the end of last season as one of several stringent conditions of their £3.8million financial bailout by the England and Wales Cricket Board, will be able to deploy Cook alongside Keaton Jennings as they try to overcome the further penalty of a 48-point deduction.

Cook, the son of prolific former Somerset batsman Jimmy, describes the prospect of his first taste of county cricket as living his dream.

Cook said: "Ever since I was a young boy, watching my dad play for Somerset, I always dreamed of one day playing county cricket.

"Now in linking up with Durham CCC I am getting to live out that dream. I am very excited to be joining up with the team and endeavour to contribute to Durham victories."

Durham coach Jon Lewis added: "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."

Cook averages 41 in his nine Tests and 41.17 in first-class cricket, having hit 40 centuries to date.

  Stephen Cook will be hoping to emulate his father Jimmy Cook (pictured), who was a prolific run-maker in county cricket
Stephen Cook will be hoping to emulate his father Jimmy Cook (pictured), who was a prolific run-maker in county cricket