Durham have undertaken a rebranding both on and off the field this Winter, gone is Durham County Cricket Club, merged with Durham County Board and in its place a new all encompassing entity stands, known simply as “Durham Cricket”.
Gone is the moniker of Jets for limited overs cricket; gone is the old county crest, replaced with a more modern looking lion crest; gone is the red kit tied to the Emirates sponsorship, seeing a return to the traditional blue and yellow kit for the limited overs games and; gone are Geoff Cook and Jon Lewis, replaced by Marcus North and James Franklin as Director of Cricket and Head Coach respectively.
Despite all the changes that have happened off the field the biggest change that will be noticed by watchers of Durham this season will be the absence of Paul Collingwood MBE, who has retired after 22 years of representing his home county, the last six as captain. It’s not just his runs and fielding the team will miss, it is his leadership and experience as well. To this day, he is the only England captain to win an international trophy – losing that level of character from a side is always going to be hard to replace.
Durham have tried to replace some of that knowledge and experience. Alex Lees, who even at the age of 25 has captaincy experience, has joined from Yorkshire. He was the youngest captain of Yorkshire since Lord Hawke, who last played for the county in 1911. They have also brought Ben Raine in from Leicestershire who has seven seasons under his belt at 27 years of age, and all the experience those seasons bring will be in the Durham changing room this year.
Collingwood’s captaincy replacement is the hardheaded Australian Cameron Bancroft, who has international experience but whose appointment has raised a few eyebrows. Without a clear alternative candidate, however, it is easy to see why they have plumped for Bancroft in the role.
Bancroft will have a young side to lead, with a sprinkling of experience, and it will be the experience in the shape of the irrepressible Chris Rushworth that he will turn to in the search of wickets as ever. I am sure he would love to turn to Mark Wood regularly, too, but he is likely to be wearing the three lions more often than the single lion of Durham’s new crest. Even less likely is the chance of turning to Ben Stokes.
It will be runs where Durham may struggle this season, and will be hoping that Lees and Bancroft can step up and score when required.
It may well be another season of rebuilding and the blooding of youngsters for Durham, but if their previous results when doing this are anything to go by, they’ll unearth some gems who’ll stand the county in good stead for years to come.
Ins: Alex Lees (Yorkshire), Ben Raine (Leicestershire)
Outs: Paul Collingwood (Retired), Barry McCarthy (Released), Ryan Davies (Released)
Key Player : Durham love their home grown players and, while people will be used to Ben Raine plying his trade at Grace Road for Leicestershire, he is a Durham lad at heart. Born in Sunderland, he has very much come home over the winter.
Whenever you make a big signing – and make no mistake Raine is a big signing who was courted by other counties – you expect them to deliver, and with Ben Stokes likely to be away on England duty for most of the summer, Durham have an all-rounder to fill his boots. Raine hits the ball well and scores quickly, and having a T20 century to his name he is no mug with the bat although it’s his bowling that is his stronger suit. He is a genuine wicket taking threat, delivering lively fast medium right arm seam bowling and will be looking to add to his 281 wickets in all formats for his new side. If he can do this, coupled with his batting, then his success will be key to Durham’s chances of success.
Player to Watch: Durham made another signing at the end of last season, which was seen as another coup in many eyes, and that was the signing of Alex lees from Yorkshire. An opening batsman of undoubted talent who had lost his way at Headingley and needed the move to reignite his career, Lees has previously been selected for the England Lions, so well thought of he was.
He has now slipped down the pecking order, but his face does fit in the England ranks and a successful season for Durham coupled with England’s ongoing opening batsman revolving door selection policy, and by the end of the season he could be back in the frame. He is still young at 25 and will be looking to fulfil his talent. Durham and their fans, meanwhile, will be hoping to see the real Alex Lees, the old Alex Lees, the Alex Lees who gained international recognition and will be watching intently to see how he does following his move.
Overseas Signings: A brace of Australians will be heading to Chester-le-Street this season: Darcy Short for the Vitality T20 Blast and Cameron Bancroft for the County Championship and Royal London One Day Cup. Bancroft has also been named captain for the Championship and 50 over competition, and Durham will be hoping his abrasive personality will rub off on his team mates and drive them towards success. Bancroft is a high quality player and will give Durham a solid foundation at the top of the innings. A gritty batsman who can accumulate runs and with a First Class average just under 40, Durham will be hoping he can replicate this for them this season too.
Darcy Short is one of the most exciting talents to come along in the shortest format of the game, he can clear the ropes with ease, having hit 92 sixes in his 82 T20 appearances both domestically and Internationally. In domestic T20 cricket Short averages over 37 at a strike rate of over 136, so there will be many a bowler in the Northern Group hoping that he is not facing when they come onto bowl. Short can also bowl, and his left arm wrist spin gives him a hint of the unknown and a bit of a golden arm, taking a wicket every 24 balls in domestic T20 cricket. He is a genuine all round package, an impressive signing by Durham and one that could propel them to finals day.
How they’ll fare: Durham’s success will depend greatly on how much they see their England duo of Mark Wood and Ben Stokes. With Stokes playing all formats for his country and Wood most likely to be wrapped in cotton wool, they are more likely to be absent than present and therefore decreasing Durham’s chances of prospering.
The side does have some young talented players, however, and it will be a season of rebuilding and development. If they appear above mid table in the Championship, I will be surprised. One of the white ball competitions is their best chance of success. If they can get on a roll and get momentum behind them, they are a side who will surprise more than their fair share.
Opening Fixture: SSCC Divisions 2 Vs Derbyshire Away Friday 5thApril 11am
SS County Championship Division 2: 25/1
Royal London One-Day Cup: 28/1
Vitality Twenty20 Blast: 25/1