Durham have only been playing first-class cricket since 1992, and yet they have won the County Championship three times. Somerset joined the County Championship more than 100 years before that in 1891, and they have never lifted the trophy. As the April morning rises over another County Championship season, both sides will be looking for an early victory in a year when neither have been widely tipped for the top prize.
Durham’s success in recent years has been built on a foundation of strong home performances and the excellent bowling of Chris Rushworth and Graham Onions in swing-friendly conditions at the Emirates Riverside.
This year, the new toss rule is likely to mean that Paul Collingwood’s men are going to find themselves batting first at home more often than not. Sides with strong seam attacks could prove deadly to Durham’s title hopes if they can exploit the conditions effectively.
If Somerset’s new captain has decided to bowl first, he will no doubt be mulling over his reduced bowling options for this encounter – both Craig and Jamie Overton are unavailable for different reasons. He has instead a blend of youth (in uncapped Josh Davey and teenager Ben Green) and experience (Trego, Allenby and Groenewald) to wile out the Durham attack.
The southwest side have, in Chris Rogers himself, found at least a temporary replacement for the sturdy Nick Compton as well, whose move to Middlesex appears to have paid the dividends he hoped for in the form of an England Test recall.
The signing of Allenby and Dutch star Tom Cooper did not yield the desired results for Matt Maynard in Championship cricket, but Rogers is an undisputed master of batting in England – and he has particularly happy memories of the Emirates, having scored his first Test ton here in the 2013 Ashes.
England’s quest for a consistent and reliable opening partner for Alastair Cook still appears far from a resolution. Mark Stoneman has been touted by quite a few pundits as a possible replacement for the stylish Nottinghamshire batsman, and there is no better way to set out your stall for an England spot than by early-season runs in tough conditions. He is likely to face the first ball of the season at the Emirates: what kind of message will he send to the selectors?
Somerset’s openers have nothing to prove to their respective national selectors, as both are enjoying their retirement in the southwest. Before they ride off into the western sunset, of course, the performances of Marcus Trescothick will be key to his county’s fortunes this year. His run-scoring feats in 2015 proved that he still has a lot to offer the club and it remains an outside possibility that maybe, just maybe, a County Championship winner’s medal is still within his reach.
Durham are without Mark Wood and Ben Stokes through injury and England recovery respectively. South Africa-born Brydon Carse made his first-class debut against the MCCU this month and has done enough to earn himself a spot in the squad.
Durham squad: Paul Collingwood (captain), Usman Arshad, Scott Borthwick, Jack Burnham, Brydon Carse, Keaton Jennings, Gordon Muchall, Graham Onions, Ryan Pringle, Michael Richardson (wk), Chris Rushworth, Mark Stoneman
For Somerset, an injury to Jamie Overton has added to their bowling problems as his twin brother also serves the last match of his suspension for an alleged racist outburst directed at Ashar Zaidi last season. Scotland’s Josh Davey and teenager Ben Green are making the journey to the Emirates instead.
Somerset squad: Chris Rogers (c), Tom Abell, Jim Allenby, Josh Davey, Alex Davies (wk), Ben Green, Lewis Gregory, Tim Groenewald, James Hildreth, Peter Trego, Marcus Trescothick, Roelef van der Merwe.
Weather and conditions
Showers are predicted from Monday onwards.
Date: 10th – 13th April 2016
Ground: Emirates Riverside
Umpires: Rob Bailey & Nigel Cowley
Odds (SkyBet): Durham 4/6, Somerset 11/10