Given the success Durham fans have enjoyed over the past decade, 2015 turned out to be a rather disappointing campaign in the North East. A strong opening to the season fizzled out somewhat for Paul Collingwood and his side, who eventually who dropped off the County Championship pace while crumbling out of the Natwest T20 Blast, again despite a punchy opening.
The Royal London One-Day Cup proved slightly better with the quarter-finals reached, but a collapse of 6/19 in their last eight fixture against Nottinghamshire saw the Jets crash out, bringing a trophyless campaign for the first time since 2012.
The aim, therefore, for 2016 will surely be to increase consistency to their season of two halves in a bid to write the wrongs of 12 months previous.
Yet despite Durham’s determination to strike even, all signs point to another flying Championship start at the Emirates Riverside. Mark Wood, recovering from injury, is set to grace the four-day game having only played once in the format last term, while Ben Stokes could also play his part before international commitments come calling.
That pair, coupled with experienced pacemen Chris Rushworth and Graham Onions, could lead to some destructive bowling performances come the early part of the season as Durham prepare for their tenth consecutive season in the upper echelon – the best record of any county.
As has become the norm for Geoff Cook’s side, recruitment was at the bare minimum over the winter, with no players arriving from other counties or departing in the opposite direction.
Instead the county have looked at youth, bringing in Jack Burnham, fresh from hitting three centuries for England in the Under-19 World Cup, while Gurman Randhawa, Rammy Singh and James Weighell are also young talents to keep an eye on.
With England places still a potential incentive, Durham will once again be looking to Mark Stoneman and Scott Borthwick to give them strong openings with the bat in hand, while Paul Collingwood, a man perhaps beyond an international recall, is set to lead from the front once more.
Durham have prided themselves on defying expectations and budgets across the past decade, but becoming the ‘team to beat’, particularly in the longer format, took away the underdog status from Chester-le-Street.
With Yorkshire ever-strengthening and the likes of Middlesex, Somerset and Surrey recruiting over the winter, Collingwood and co. will need to continue their strong home dominance ahead of a pivotal year for the Championship’s upper echelon.
An obvious choice, but it’s hard to overlook Chris Rushworth following a scintillating 2015 for the fast bowler. The 29-year-old excelled at the Emirates Riverside to take 100 wickets across all three competitions, earning him the PCA Player of the Year award in the process.
As mentioned, Durham are set to enjoy a four-pronged fast bowling attack featuring Rushworth and three England internationals at the start of the season, and while a call-up of his own will still be an ambition, it looks set that the Sunderland-born man will be leading the line for Durham across the season.
But it was in the LVCC where Rushworth impressed most last year, taking 83 wickets, far more than anyone else, and you wonder where Durham could have ended up had it not been for his contribution. The northern outfit will be needing him on form once again this year if they want a chance at pipping Yorkshire to the crown.
Player to Watch
You’d be forgiven for forgetting Scott Borthwick was originally just a leg-spinner. It was that that earned the 25-year-old a Test berth in 2014, but to date that maintains his only appearance in cricket’s pinnacle arena.
But since then, Borthwick has developed a new string to his bow as an enterprising number three batsman with his leg-spin forced to take a backseat at the fast-bowler friendly Emirates Riverside.
Borthwick averaged more than 44 from 17 first-class matches last term, notching an impressive 1390 runs in the format to top his county’s averages. He also made 11 half-centuries, five more than any other Durham man, but will surely be looking for a higher conversion rate this time around, making just two centuries with a high score of 104 – a paltry number given his obvious capabilities.
Australian John Hastings appears in the North East for a third successive season, having enjoyed a productive opening campaign in 2014, while appearing multiple times last season. Hastings played a part in his country’s World T20 campaign, and while he is set to feature in the upcoming IPL, but is set to undergo surgery which could rule him out for the season.
In his absence, Durham have spoken to Shoaib Malik about a possible T20 berth, as they look to replace the 87 wickets Hastings mustered last year.
How they’ll fare
Durham are used to defying expectations, but will the tailing off from last season hamper them heading into 2016? The County Championship seems to be getting stronger every year, so they’ll have their work cut out in that regard, while a Twenty 20 success remains elusive from Chester-le-Street.
Specsavers County Championship: 10/1
Royal London One-Day Cup: 16/1
Natwest Twenty20 Blast: 25/1