Durham have a habit of over performing given their relatively small budget, and having won three of the last seven LV County Championship titles, the league’s newest county have asserted themselves as one of the strongest sides in the country.
This is in no small part down to the leadership of Paul Collingwood – the former England all rounder has been instrumental to Durham’s success since his retirement from Test cricket in 2011, and the 38-year old will no doubt be desperate to add to his collection of silverware in what could be his final season with the club. Though if his form last season is anything to go by, he still has plenty of fuel in the tank.
Back to back Division One titles in 2008 and 2009 represented the club’s most successful spell in recent years, but their 2013 Championship should perhaps be considered their greatest accomplishment. Under the captaincy of Collingwood, Durham’s young and inexperienced squad continued to prove their doubters wrong – a comprehensive victory against title rivals Yorkshire on a flat pitch at Scarborough late in the season was arguably the key performance, and one which all but secured the league.
But the most admiral factor was that Durham’s side was made up almost exclusively of academy gratuates, and this season will be no different. Local lads Mark Stoneman, Michael Richardson and Scott Borthwick each passed 1000 runs last year, while John Hastings was only man to take ten or more wickets for Durham having not played for the club at academy level. Success over Warwickshire in the Royal London One Day Cup final last year, the second limited overs trophy in their history, will also provide a welcome boost. Durham simply can’t financially compete with their title rivals, but retaining their ability to beat the bigger sides will be as crucial as ever if they are to stand any chance of adding to their trophy cabinet this time around.
Outs: Gareth Breese (released)
Sunderland-born seamer Chris Rushworth was irreplaceable for Durham last season, taking 64 wickets at an average of under 25. His 15 wicket haul against Northants in September underlined the fact that seamers can really dominate at Chester-le-Street, and with no England call up on the horizon, it’s likely that he’ll be available for the full season. But his heroics aren’t exclusive to the County Championship – Rushworth took two crucial wickets as Durham lifted the Royal London Trophy final at Lord’s, with only four players taking more wickets in the competition.
Durham love to produce a seamer-friendly pitch, and as a result fast bowlers have often been successful in the north-east. Alongside former England international Graham Onions, Rushworth is the spear of the attack, and has proven time and again that he has the ability to blow sides away. If Durham are to be successful this season, they need to make sure the 28-year old is firing on all cylinders. Rushworth is something of a late bloomer with just 56 first-class matches under his belt, but his game doesn’t lack experience. Incidentally, Rushworth is also the cousin of wicket-keeper Phil Mustard.
Player to Watch
At 28 years of age, Michael Richardson is by no means a young kid from the academy, but the wicket-keeper’s early career was held back by the ever-present Phil Mustard. Only in the last couple of seasons has Richardson been able to force his way into the Durham side, and his game has improved significantly as a result. Having waited patiently for his chance, the South Africa-born keeper has now established himself as a key middle order batsman, and is a handy understudy should Mustard not be in the side. His career average is a modest 29.7, but having managed over 1000 runs in 2014, there a signs that he could be about to push on.
Richardson is not short of technical ability, but is unlikely to be seen as the county’s dangerman, which can only work in his favour. His breakthrough year last season saw him smash five half centuries and two hundreds in first-class cricket, while no player in the Durham team batted more innings than he did in the County Championship – proving what a valuable asset he is becoming. Only Stoneman and Borthwick scored more runs than Richardson, and he even managed to last the season without a single duck.
John Hastings wasn’t the name many Durham fans had hoped for when he joined the club as an overseas player for the 2014 season, but the big Australian was an instant hit at the Emirates ICG. A powerful all-rounder, Hastings took 37 wickets in the County Championship in his debut season in England, averaging just under 22. With the bat, he showed some serious ability; against Northamptonshire in the Natwest t20 Blast, the 29-year-old smashed an incredible 80 from just 26 balls. Often batting at seven in the order, Hastings proved to be one of Durham’s most consistent performers during the 2014 season.
As a right-arm fast bowler, the Australian is another who benefits from the pace-friendly Durham pitch, and fit perfectly into their system as the first change bowler. Like last year, Hastings will be available across all formats, which will be a huge boost to a county with such a small squad. Financial constraints mean Jon Lewis’ team were never likely to call upon Kumar Sangakkara for a second spell, and having a weapon like Hastings in the lower order has proven to be a real asset to Durham. If he can recapture his form from last season, he’ll have a big part to play in any success they have.
How they’ll fare
Durham will be hoping to build on their comfortable mid table finish in the County Championship last season. The north east side were let down last year by their slow start, drawing six and losing one of their opening seven fixtures, and so getting their campaign off to a good start against Somerset this month will be a big confidence boost. A more consistent season could see Durham mount a serious title challenge, but the fierce competition means a top three finish would represent a very respectable season. They will also be hoping that international call ups are kind to them – the explosive Ben Stokes could be away for long periods, while bowler Mark Wood received his first England call up this Spring.
As champions of the competition, there certainly isn’t any reason why Durham can’t go far in the Royal London Cup. Their batting line-up is a balanced one – hard hitters such as Stokes and Mustard, combined with sensible grafters like Collingwood, will see them considered genuine contenders for the trophy once again. On the other hand, Durham’s pedigree in the Twenty20 format leaves a lot to be desired, and while a spot at Finals Day wouldn’t be beyond them, expectations will always remain relatively low. The priority for Jon Lewis, without doubt, will be the LV County Championship.
v Somerset, Sunday 12th April at Taunton
Season Odds (via SkyBet)
LV County Championship Division One: 8/1
Royal London One-Day Cup: 9/1
Natwest Twenty20 Blast: 20/1