County previews March 29, 2016

Rushworth goes once more unto the breach

Chris Rushworth was named as PCA player of the year © Getty Images

Coach: Jon Lewis
Captain: Paul Collingwood (Champ), Mark Stoneman (T20, 50)

Last season
Specsavers Championship: 4th Div 1; NatWest Blast: 6th North Group; Royal London Cup: QF

In: None

Out: None

Overseas: None

2015 in a nutshell

Durham have been hard-pressed on and off the field since winning the Championship in 2013 and did extraordinarily well to secure a fourth-place finish in Division One in 2015 in a season when Ben Stokes and Mark Wood regularly formed part of England's bowling attack. Their T20 cricket has been unconvincing and floodlights at Chester-le-Street were a godsend as they sought to pull in the crowds necessary to improve a parlous financial position.

2016 prospects

Finances are biting hard at Durham, enough to raise questions about their long-term survival as an international venue. Enough, too, to mean there has been no rush to replace John Hastings, their wholehearted Australian overseas pro, who will miss much of the summer because of required surgery. It is rare that misgivings can be expressed about Durham's pace-bowling strength but that is the case this season: a fast start in the Championship when Wood and, possibly, Stokes are on hand is essential or they could find themselves struggling at the wrong end of the table.

Key player

Chris Rushworth was county cricket's herculean performer in 2015. Forget talk about helpful north-east pitches, his 83 wickets at 20.61 was the best Division One return and his insistent pace bowling was a threat wherever he played. Justly named PCA player of the year, his indefatigable approach sustained Durham all season. More of the same please.

Bright young thing

Durham might have found a regular opening partner for Mark Stoneman in the form of Jack Burnham, who made a good impression for England in the recent U-19 World Cup and finished as the tournament's leading runscorer despite a quarter-final exit. Life has improved since he was bowled for a duck on debut at Scarborough by a former Durham favourite, Liam Plunkett.

ESPNcricinfo verdict

Promotion for Surrey and Lancashire gives Division One a strong look this season and Durham will have to scrap hard to retain their status.

Bet365 odds: Specsavers Championship, Div 1: 9/1; NatWest Blast n/a; Royal London Cup 16/1

David Hopps is a general editor at ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps

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