Durham are County Championship challengers - Ben Stokes

Ben Stokes
Stokes made 135 from 145 balls against Hampshire in April

Durham all-rounder Ben Stokes says the county's early season performances have put them among the challengers for the Championship title this season.

After a disappointing 2010 season in which the club finished fifth, Durham sit third after four games, 12 points behind early leaders Lancashire.

"Teams should [see us as challengers] with the experience, quality and team we've got," Stokes told BBC Newcastle.

"The way we're playing, there is no reason we can't win the Championship."

Stokes' personal 2011 campaign began in style with a blistering 145-ball second-innings 135 - including five sixes in one over - and a six-wicket haul in April's draw with Hampshire.

However the England Lions player has found life harder since, failing to top 28 with the bat and without another wicket in three four-day games.

"I've felt in form but just haven't turned that into many big runs," Stokes said.

"The bowling has gone from a massive high to a massive low. I've been trying to work out why it's not happening, and [bowling coach] Alan Walker has been working with me, so hopefully I can get back to where I was in that first game.

"I'm not blaming it all on my ankle [which was injured previously] - I think it's self-confidence I lack at the start of a spell of bowling.

"I need to get that fear of not starting well out of my mind, and bowl the way I do when I've bowled for four or five overs."