After being punished by the ECB over their finances, 2017 was an inevitable write off for Durham, especially after losing two key players in Mark Stoneman and Scott Borthwick. The position this put the side in, after beginning the season on -48 points, seemed to destroy their confidence and they were only able to post three victories in the County Championship and failed to progress in either of the shorter format competitions.
Although Paul Collingwood was the lynchpin of the side, finishing the season as the leading run scorer in two of the three formats, he lacked support. Other players who have experience and talent failed to live up to their usual standards, as ten wins from three competitions has shown. Forever young though he may seem, the reality is that Collingwood cannot continue carrying the side alone.
If they can put last season on the scrap heat and look forward, however, Durham can have a fresh start in 2018.
Some important faces have moved on, with Paul Coughlin heading to Trent Bridge and Keaton Jennings joining Graham Onions at Old Trafford, but it was perhaps inevitable that some would seek their fortune elsewhere under the circumstances.
Durham must try to focus on the positives. Collingwood has signed a one-year contract extension, which will have been welcome news for fans and staff alike. The experienced former Durham man Will Smith is returning from Hampshire. 25-year-old Kiwi batsman Tom Latham returns for the season, subject to his international commitments and opening batsman Aidan Markram will start the season before being whisked away by South Africa.
Favourites Chris Rushworth and Ryan Pringle remain with the side and will appreciate the back up from Aussie Nathan Rimmington, who will be available for all three formats for the next two seasons. Young opener Cameron Steel, who made his debut last season, looks to have a lot of talent but he will need to live up to that expectation.
You’d be a fool to think this will be an easy year for the boys from the North East, but if ever the term “the only way is up” applied, it’s here.
Ins: Will Smith (Hampshire), Nathan Rimmington (Overseas), Aiden Markram (Overseas), Tom Latham (Overseas)
Outs: Paul Coughlin (Nottinghamshire), Graham Onions, Keaton Jennings (both Lancashire)
What is there to say about Paul Collingwood that you don’t already know? At 41, he remains the centre of the Durham team although his focus must inevitably start to move toward developing the younger side in the coming years. His longevity is incredible and if anyone can help the team consolidate in 2018, he is the man.
Player to Watch
22-year-old well-travelled opener and sometime spinner, Cameron Steel, was something of a bright spot in a rather dull season. He finished the year with 1,214 first class runs at a solid average of just below 40. When he made 224 on opening at Leicester in August, he became the youngest double centurion in Durham’s history. With many of their key players on the older side, this is just the kind of talent the county needs to be developing. If he lives up to this promise in 2018, he could rapidly find himself a central figure in the team.
Nathan Rimmington (Australian), Aiden Markram (South African), Tom Latham (New Zealand)
How they’ll fare
If 2017 was the season they had one arm tied behind their back, 2018 is the season where they might just need three arms if they are to progress. The concern is that they’ve become so used to losing, that it will be difficult to make the change in mindset. And yet, it must be done. Durham are bound to have quite a battle on their hands, but with the talent of players such as Nathan Rimmington and Chris Rushworth, combined with the sheer determination of Paul Collingwood, it’s very possible they can climb a few spots in the Division Two table. This might not be the year for promotion, but it should be the year to rebuild.
SSCC v Kent, Friday April 20th at Emirates Riverside, Chester le Street
SS County Championship Division 2: 16/1
Royal London One-Day Cup: 25/1
Vitality Twenty20 Blast: 25/1