County cricket 2014 March 22, 2014

Champions Durham eye one-day improvement

Last year

1st, CC Div 1; 3rd North Div, FLt20; 4th Group B, YB40.

2013 in a nutshell

Durham celebrated their 21st birthday as a first-class club with their third County Championship title in six seasons. To make matters even more impressive, they did so with a squad with a strong team bond and drawn to a large extent from the community they represent.

Durham's success was the product of old-fashioned virtues: a long-term commitment to identifying the best young players in the region and developing them assiduously. In the shrewdest of captains in Paul Collingwood and a long-respected head coach, Geoff Cook, whose recovery from a heart attack in mid-season was a blessed relief, they had two cricketing figures of real stature.

The seaming pitches at Riverside helped but this was also a story about how young cricketers summoned great resolve to bring success to the north-east. If ever a county challenged cricket's tendency to rely upon a narrow talent pool, and emphasised the need to put down links in the whole of the community, it was Durham.

2014 prospects

It will be harder for Durham this time around, especially if injuries take their toll on a small squad. Jon Lewis, the new head coach, has already bemoaned the lack of reinforcements after the release of Will Smith, Callum Thorp, Mitchell Claydon and Ruel Braithwaite, the retirement of Steve Harmison and departure of Dale Benkenstein to coach Hampshire. Add England's interest, to varying degrees, in Ben Stokes, Scott Borthwick, Graham Onions and Mark Wood and the concerns are understandable.

That could see more emphasis on one-day cricket. Stuart Poynter, the Ireland wicketkeeper, trialled late last season and will add some middle-order might to their hitting. Collingwood has also sought to offset the departure of Benkenstein by enticing Scotland's Calum Macloed over the border on what, initially at least, is a short-term contract.

John Hastings, the Australian all-rounder, has been brought in as an overseas player primarily to try to improve Durham's fortunes in limited-overs cricket - he is a bowler able to mix up his approach and will probably be used as a finisher with the bat - and will arrive as soon as his stint in IPL with Chennai Super Kings has come to an end. Durham calculate that his red-ball skills can mask Stokes' anticipated absence in Championship cricket, too.

Key player

The key player - or at least one of them - is missing in the most frustrating circumstances. Stokes' angry punch of a dressing room locker after a first-ball duck on England's tour of the West Indies resulted in an operation on a fractured wrist and an expected absence from the first six weeks of the season. With so much Championship cricket ahead of the first Test against Sri Lanka, for Durham it is a dreadful waste.

Bright young thing

It is a bit counterintuitive to praise Durham's player development and then identify an imported player as worthy of attention, but Stuart Poynter, brought over from Ireland at 23, is an intriguing signing. A former MCC Young Cricketer, he chose cricket ahead of hockey and although he has failed to quicken the interest of Middlesex and Warwickshire, he can find a niche for Durham in the one-day game.


Collingwood stays on as captain for a second full season, although England's obvious interest in bringing him into the inner sanctum - he is acting as fielding coach in World Twenty20 - does invite the question whether he will have his mind more set on coaching qualifications than his playing career come the end of the season. Geoff Cook has been shunted into player development, not entirely contentedly, which puts the onus on Lewis, his replacement, who stepped in after Cook's heart attack, to foster more of the same.

ESPNcricinfo verdict

Durham took great delight in confounding the critics last season, winning the Championship when some had expected them to be relegated. For all their admirable qualities, they will confound this one if they repeat their Championship win, but may quietly settle for the top half of the table if they make a mark in Twenty20.

David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • CricketingStargazer on March 25, 2014, 11:17 GMT

    I am struck by the fact that, last year, having had a lot of problems in 2012, almost everyone seemed to think that Durham were going to be relegated last year. And, with only 5 games left for the top three, Durham were almost 50 points back and no one rated them seriously as a contender for the Championship.

    That Durham were able to survive in 2012 despite a desperate first two-thirds of the season and win last year is down to their ability to find player after player. Rule them out at your peril! They seem not to know when they are beaten.

  • ChrisRyanParker on March 25, 2014, 9:06 GMT

    Think Usman Ashard should have been given a mention for the bright young thing; came in as a replacement for injuries/England call ups and done terrific at the end of the season, scored an 83, and took 16 wickets at an average of 15. Only 20 at the time as well

  • countjimmoriarty on March 24, 2014, 12:58 GMT

    Yorkshire follow the pattern? Yorkshire SET the pattern. Developing our own players for 150 years.

  • DaveMorton on March 24, 2014, 10:47 GMT

    Durham seem to have a constant supply of talented players. You need only watch the activity in the nets on a match day to understand why - a talented group of young kids in the morning receiving top coaching, another elite group in the afternoon.

    That's the way to do it, from the grass roots upwards, some Counties need to take note. Yorkshire, Lancashire and Derbyshire all follow the Durham pattern, but others prefer the quick fix.

    Not naming any names, of course.

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