Revisiting last summer, Durham’s highlight has to have been finishing runners-up in the T20 Blast. Considering it was just their second ever trip to Finals Day, it was an almighty effort given the depth of the squad compared to some of the T20 heavyweights in the country.
The ‘Jets’, as they’re referred to in this particular format, were beaten by Northants in the final by 4 wickets. Yet they were excellent in the semi, too good for a Yorkshire side filled with stars such as Joe Root, Liam Plunkett and Jonny Bairstow.
Captained by both Mark Stoneman and Paul Collingwood, it was a rare (albeit impressive) taste of success in the 20/20 format that will hopefully encourage the something similar in 2017.
Before the turmoil of the post-season relegation, Durham finished respectably in fourth position in Division 1 of the Championship. Although relegation was never really a threat, nor was competing with the top dogs of Middlesex, Yorkshire and Somerset as ultimately there were too many draws (eight in total) alongside five wins and three defeats.
The news on October 3rd, of the ECB penalising the club with relegation and removing Test match status, then changed everything.
In the One Day Cup, the side very narrowly missed out on qualifying for the knock-out stage to Worcestershire, who went through in fourth-placed to the last eight.
Durham will now begin the 2017 season with a 48-point deduction in the Championship as well as 4-points in the Blast and 2 points in the 50-over One Day format.
Ins: Cameron Steele (Durham MCCU)
Outs: Mark Stoneman (Surrey), Scott Borthwick (Surrey), Phil Mustard (Gloucestershire), Callum MacLeod (Released), Jamie Harrison (Released), Gordon Muchall (Retired)
Key player: Chris Rushworth
As far as under-rated players on the county circuit go, the right-arm seamer might just take the crown. The 30-year-old has proved to be a bit of a nightmare for opening batsmen, especially in chilly bowler-friendly conditions of the north-east. He averages at just over 24 with the ball in First Class cricket since his debut in 2010 – with the stand-out being 2015, when he took 80 Championship scalps.
Rushworth has proved deadly with the new (and old) ball in his hand, in an opening partnership stemmed with the handy Graham Onions, but it’s not just the red ball he shines with.
Rushworth averages under 24 with the ball in T20 and an economy of just over 7 runs an over, which isn’t a bad return in the modern-day era of massive willows and shortened boundaries. The gentle medium pace of Rushworth combined with the lightning pace of England’s Mark Wood on Finals Day proved very successful, after the pair brilliantly starred in the win against Yorkshire and in the quarter-final at Gloucester.
If he stays fit and retains his form of the last few season, there is no doubt Durham can compete in Division Two even with their points deduction. Admittedly, it looks like Rushworth’s England prospects have faded, but what could be Trevor Bayliss’ loss will be Jon Lewis’ and Durham’s gain.
Player to watch: Paul Coughlin
Just 24 years of age and 21 First Class matches under his belt, Coughlin has a big opportunity this season as a bowling all-rounder in a lower league to cement himself as a certainty in the Durham team. The right-arm seamer averages 30 with the red ball and is handy with the bat in the lower order notably scoring 85 on debut at number 10, which proved crucial in a win against Lancashire in 2014.
Coughlin, whose younger brother Josh is also a promising member of Durham’s Academy side, was Durham’s third leading wicket taker in last year’s Blast with 17, only behind Scott Borthwick (18) and Rushworth (19), as well as excelling in the field. The local lad won the club’s ‘Top Fielder’ award for 2016, which showcases his athleticism and ability in all departments.
Coughlin has been busy this winter, after being included in England’s Pace Programme in South Africa, and was joined by team-mate Mark Wood which took place from January-February.
Overseas Signings: Stephen Cook (South Africa), Tom Latham (New Zealand)
Durham have clinched the services of South African batsman Stephen Cook and New Zealander Tom Latham for the 2017 season. Cook will be available from April to June, and Latham from June to the end of the season.
Cook is expected to be included in the South Africa Test squad for their trip to England this summer and has nine Tests already, including a hundred on debut against England. The opener will be available for Championship matches and for the One Day Cup competition.
Latham, however, will be available for all three formats when he joins up after Cook’s departure. Latham has some experience of playing in the north east, he was in Durham’s academy in 2010, and was most recently playing county cricket for Kent in Division Two last summer, scoring 374 runs in nine innings.
The 24-year-old has played 28 matches already for his native New Zealand, where he averages a little under 40 with the bat. Durham will be hopeful this extra batting from the two internationals can give them something to cheer about this season.
How they’ll fare
Unfortunately, 2017 should have perhaps been a year Durham competed in the top 5 of Division One again. Instead, it’s likely they’ll have to settle for consolidation in the second tier given their painful points deduction.
The silver lining, however, is that Durham have a crop of younger fringe players such as Ryan Pringle, Stuart Poynter, Adam Hickey and Jack Burnham to name a few. The drop down in level may provide the ideal opportunity for these players to cement themselves as county players, and improve their games to become future regulars.
The experience is also largely sill there. Collingwood, Onions and Rushworth, for example, have worn the Durham shirt many times and can offer the blend needed for Durham to regroup and get themselves back into Division One in the next couple of years, or to at least help prepare for that.
There’s international talent, too. Ben Stokes and Mark Wood have become big names in the Test Match scene and when available/fit, can step in and give Durham what would be a huge boost both on and off the field. It was also a big winter for Keaton Jennings in an England shirt, debuting in India, and the opening batsman has been named Durham’s new One Day captain with Coughlin has his deputy, prompting more positivity around the place.
In the shorter format it’s hard to predict how Durham will fare. The aim for the One-Day Cup should be to reach the quarter-finals at least, and in the T20, there shouldn’t be a reason why Durham can’t also make it through to the knock-outs with the talent they have at their disposal. But with the two and four point deductions respectively, it will be very difficult for the Jets to progress.
Durham have let go of two big players in Mark Stoneman and Scott Borthwick, but they certainly have players that can fill the hole that looked rather large when they left at the end of last season. The additions of Stephen Cook and Tom Latham can bolster the batting order and hopefully provide some invaluable experience for the younger players.
Off the field the prospects look positive, too, with the news breaking in November of Ian Botham agreeing to join Durham as the club’s new chairman, his aim being to guide the club to better times ahead.
Opening fixture: vs Nottinghamshire, Friday April 14th at Emirates Riverside ICG.
Specsavers County Championship Division 2: outright winner 25/1
Royal London One-Day Cup: 12/1
NatWest T20 Blast: TBA