Durham v Nottinghamshire, Chester-le-Street, 3rd day September 19, 2013

Durham claim third Championship title


Durham 256 (Collingwood 88*, Mustard 77, Adams 4-69) and 69 for 2 beat Nottinghamshire 78 (Harrison 3-4) and 246 (Mullaney 72, Hussey 57) by eight wickets

It is often stated that there are too many first-class counties. That, if a few were merged, the concentration of talent within the England domestic game would improve the overall standard.

Durham prove the shallowness of that argument. They prove that the talent pool is not finite and that, if you take the time to nurture and develop young players, provide inspiration and opportunity, you will, in time, reap what you sow.

Durham have just celebrated their 21st birthday as a first-class club with their third County Championship title in six seasons. What is more, they have done it with a team - and it really is a team rather than a collection of individuals - drawn from the community they represent. They have done it through years of identifying the best young players in the region and providing them with the best coaching and the most opportunities they can manage. In an age where it is common for teams in all sports to buy success, Durham have done it the old-fashioned way.

But if Durham did not have first-class status, this could never have happened. At best, a few of their players would have found a home at other counties. Realistically, many of them would have been lost to the game. They have not only vindicated the decision to take first-class cricket to the northeast of England, but the decision to persist with 18 first-class counties. In a perfect world, there might even be more.

There were some common themes in the words of the architects of Durham's success as the champagne corks popped. One was the shared respect and affection everyone at this club has for the head coach, Geoff Cook, and the unifying effect the shock of his illness provided on the entire club. "I know every man in that dressing room wanted to do it for Geoff," Paul Collingwood said as he clutched the trophy.

Another was the spirit created by the shared background of so many of those involved. Not just the players, but many of the coaching staff and the administrative staff, too. Again and again, they spoke of the "spirit of people from the northeast" as a contributory factor in Durham's ability to rise to the many challenges they faced.

Collingwood put it like this: "We kept getting tested every, single game. Something happens that just keeps testing us and somehow we keep showing the resolve. I don't know what it is. It seems to be inside the northeast people. They just want to fight. They keep fighting. And these youngsters have just fought all year, through adversity, whether it be financial situations or Geoff Cook's illness. People have grown. Seeing the youngsters blossom has been absolutely wonderful."

David Harker, the Durham chief executive, agreed. "I don't like to talk about it too much," he said, of that fact so many people at the club hail from the northeast, "because it can seem arrogant or parochial, but I believe there is something special.

"There is a sense of camaraderie; there is a sense of belonging to something that extends beyond the eleven guys in the dressing room. There is a sense of roots and pride. Culture is a consistent pattern of behaviour over time and these guys have grown up together, they know each other and they are comfortable with each other, they have similar background so there is a cohesion here that helps fuel team spirit."

None of this means there is anything inherently better about the spirit of people in the northeast to those in Sussex, or Somerset or Lancashire or Yorkshire. Indeed, several of those clubs have enjoyed success with a similar ethos to Durham. It is just that, while some teams sometimes struggle to maintain a shared vision or shared values, Durham have fashioned a team that have graduated through the same system and understand each other and the culture of the club. When times are hard, when players are forced to find that little extra, these things matter.

Times have been hard, too. While half-a-dozen other counties spent their pre-seasons in Barbados, Durham had only two days of grass nets before their first game. They could not even afford the marquees that were utilised by the likes of Essex and Middlesex.

Instead, they climbed Beinn Dubh, a mountain in the Loch Lomond region. The entire playing and coaching team helped one another through snow and ice to reach the summit. Collingwood insists that, as a team building exercise it was invaluable. As a metaphor for their success, it also works neatly. They've been climbing mountains all season.

Then there was the loss of Dale Benkenstein to injury, the heart attack suffered by Cook, the inability of the club to afford an overseas player or other new recruits and the loss, to various England squads, of key players. They lost two of their first three matches, too.

It is in times of such adversity that team spirit is worth more than expensive overseas players or players from other counties seeking to advance their individual careers.

Collingwood felt that the seven-wicket victory over Yorkshire at Scarborough at the end of August - a game he described "as close as you can get to Test cricket" - was the moment he knew his side could win this title. In it, Stokes scored a century and delivered 33 second-innings overs; a herculean effort.

In truth, however, Durham had been building ever since July 29, 2012, when they won their first game of the previous season by 15 runs against Middlesex. The appointment of Collingwood as captain changed everything.

In some ways, Durham have made a virtue of necessity. Had they had the finance, they would have signed several players ahead of this season: Jacques Rudolph, James Harris and Jack Brooks among them. Scott Borthwick, who requires 15 more for 1000 Championship runs, would probably not have batted at No. 3 and Mark Wood, a fast bowler in the Simon Jones mould, might never have played.

But times have changed. Next year the club will spend around £1.2m on player salaries compared to a total of around £1.9m to the end of March 2012. The likes of Ian Blackwell, Liam Plunkett and Michael De Venuto have already gone. Steve Harmison will soon join them. There is a danger that, with Collingwood a year away from retirement, Ben Stokes on the verge of an England career and Graham Onions now 31 and carrying a huge burden, that the pace of change may need to slow. Youth is wonderful, but it requires leadership.

Such issues can wait. With one game to play, Durham have the chance to win a record 11 games in a Division One season and extend their club record winning streak to six successive Championship games.

They have produced, from boyhood to manhood, a side that not only deserves the greatest prize in English domestic cricket but that contains one or two players who could benefit the England team for a generation. They have done exactly what county cricket is supposed to do and emerged as a reminder to their rivals of the virtues of self-reliance and developing local players.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on September 20, 2013, 21:52 GMT

    i am proud to be an alumni of Durham University .. I spent the best year of my life in Durham .. Durham University has invested alot in Sports .. in Cricket Collingwood , Strauss , Hossain all England former captains are product of Durham University investment in sports .. not only cricket Durham has produced significance performance in Rowing and rugby as well .. i am a pround Durhamian ..

  • Peter on September 20, 2013, 18:58 GMT

    Absolutely great to see Durham win this year. It must be great to play under Colly. Here in Canterbury perhaps Kent will take note. Get you Academy & scouting system in order, coach them to high standards - and TRUST them! Let Kentish people watch Kentish lads playing for their own county. So what, if they struggle at first? So what, if some don't eventually make the grade? Why keep taking on rejects form elsewhere? Accept that it'll take a year or two - there's no money anyway, only debt, so how can the club lose? To accept that in a county where so much club cricket is played to a high standard that you can't have a county side with 8 or 9 Kentish players is ridiculous. Look at the other side of the coin at Surrey. The proof of the pudding is in the eating but you just can't tell these people. Durham have proved it - well done & good luck to them!

  • Joe on September 20, 2013, 16:21 GMT

    Why are there only 18 counties that play domestic Cricket? why not counties like Cheshire, Dorset, Suffolk etc? Durham are the latest new county but I feel kind of bad for these counties that play in the minor championship. There should be a third division in English domestic circuit so these counties also have a chance of going up. Durham a former minor county itself is proof enough that it it possible for such counties to be the top dogs. Personally I think counties should be raised from 18 to 24 and have 4 groups of 6 teams in the limited overs games. Well done Durham!!!

  • Dummy4 on September 20, 2013, 14:37 GMT

    The point about the culture and background of the players in Durhams squad is not lost on the cricket loving public of the North East. How many of the present squad are from Middle, Upper class backgrounds, few I reckon. Instead of geordie grit, lets call it Regional grit. The region has always been noted for it's never say die attitude. Long may it continue. Its to be noted the last 2 players of a "priveleged" background contributed little in their careers at Durham

  • Stephen on September 20, 2013, 10:55 GMT

    Very many congratulations to Durham, to Paul Collingwood and to their desire to promote home-grown players. How I wish other counties could follow their example, I for one hate to see counties 'buying in' foreign players for a few games, and frankly when they fail I quite enjoy it! Thinking that I must pay a visit to C-L-S next year! Oh and @Stewart Barnes, I too am a Gloucestershire supporter, from afar, in a family tradition that goes back to the 19th century, can't see them ever winning either. (mind you, I once thought I'd never see England win the Ashes again!)

  • Ray on September 20, 2013, 9:24 GMT

    Congratulations Durham. The team is definitely more than the sum of its parts (This is meant to be a compliment!). If only we could engender this level of professionalism and team spirit at the Oval.

  • Dummy4 on September 20, 2013, 9:03 GMT

    I am so pleased for the Durham team-doesnt seem that long ago they were a minor county. Also,they are producing good players for England Harmison ,Collingwood,Onions and now Stokes-however,he should bat higher than number 8 IMO-his batting seems to fallen away at the expense of his bowling-get the balance right,and England have a real prospect. I wish my team ,Gloucestershire could be so successful-never won a county championship yet!

  • Dummy4 on September 20, 2013, 8:33 GMT

    This is one Yorkshireman genuinely pleased for Durham. I'd also like to say that this is a lovely piece of writing by Mr Dobell.