Will Smith basks in proudest moment
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Durham will celebrate their back-to-back Championship titles with a trip to Dublin after the season finishes, but first they want to complete their dominant campaign with two more victories and put further daylight between them and the chasing pack. Will Smith, the captain, is taking more pleasure from this year's triumph than Durham's maiden four-day title last year having assumed the captaincy from Dale Benkenstein.
The runs haven't flowed for Smith in the same manner (522 runs at 27.47 so far in 2009 compared to 925 at 51.38 in 2008) but the demands of leading a title defence have left him proud of his achievement. Division One has been a one-horse race since Durham hit their straps after three early draws and they wrapped up the title with a thumping innings-and-52-run victory against Nottinghamshire.
"On a personal level, I had a decent part to play as I scored a few runs last year but this year, while I haven't scored the runs, I've put far more energy and emotion into it," he told Cricinfo's Switch Hit Cricket Show. "It means a hell of a lot more this year to captain the side to what, on the face of it, is a very convincing victory. It makes me immensely proud and if we win the next two matches it will be a very dominant table at the end of the season. It's one of the proudest moments of my cricketing life and does surpass last year."
However, the hectic nature of the county calendar means they played a Pro40 match the next day - although most of the first team continued their celebrations on the balcony as a young side took the field - and on Monday were on a long coach journey to play Hampshire at The Rose Bowl. For Smith, one of the players who had to battle a heavy night to play on Sunday, it means the enormity of the achievement hasn't sunk in.
"I don't think it has yet. We had the Pro40 game that didn't really allow is to accept it and the evening we won it was mostly a drunken haze more than anything," he said. "It will do in the next week or so. We have two games to play, and we are concentrating on those, but when they are done and dusted there will be a few more celebrations and a few more events to honour the occasion and then it will really hit home."
Even when Durham were occasionally put under pressure they managed to turn the tables. Against Worcestershire they found themselves 59 for 6 in the first innings, but won the came by five wickets, and conceded a 135-run lead against Yorkshire yet finished with a dominant draw.
"It's been a funny season in many ways," Smith said. "We've had to dig in at stages so there have been sessions where we've been up against it. But someone will recognise that moment and drag us around, that's really been the story of the season. There have been times when it's been tough and we've had to fight tooth and nail.
One of those to play a vital role at turning innings around has been Ian Blackwell and Smith was full of praise for the all-round skills he has brought to the team. "He contributed a lot of tough runs in difficult situations at the start of the season, and in combination with Phil Mustard and Liam Plunkett put on crucial runs. And later in the season he has come into his own with the ball.
"When he was at Taunton he probably wasn't renowned as an attacking spinner because it was a small ground with a flat pitch. With all due respect to every spinner we've had at Durham but he has really raised the bar. He's a very clever bowler, with variations in pace, and that's allowed him to take nearly 40 wickets which is a great record."
And there is Steve Harmison, who is yet to confirm his international future after not earning a central contract. He has set his sights of Simon Brown's Durham wicket-taking record of 518 scalps and is currently one short of reaching 400. "He's been fantastic this season. He's an incredible guy and an incredible bowler," Smith said. "Sometimes he's misunderstood and it seems to me that when he plays for England or Durham all he does is put his heart and soul into it all.
"That's been obvious this season when he's bowled for us, sometimes bits have been falling off and he's still been charging in. The emotion he summons up when playing for Durham is incredible and as long as his body and mind are willing he'll be one of the first names I'd love to have in the team."
Smith insists thoughts of making it a hat-trick of titles will wait while they celebrate this success, but if Harmison is around for a full season it's going to be very hard to stop Durham.
Andrew McGlashan is assistant editor of Cricinfo