Durham target County Championship promotion charge fuelled by grievance

Nick Hoult
Paul Collingwood and Durham are out to prove a point - Getty Images Europe

“Fire in the belly”, “sense of injustice”, and “kick in the teeth”. 

The double whammy of relegation and a 48-point deduction still hurts at Durham, six months on from the club’s punishment for financial mismanagement. But as Jon Lewis, the Durham coach, says before his side’s first Championship game of the season on Friday, it is time to move on. 

“I’m at the stage now where I hope that this is the last day we talk about it and we can concentrate on the cricket,” he says, rather wearily.

Durham's new era begins against Nottinghamshire at the Riverside, another team that fell from Division One last season, although their deficiencies were on the field rather than the balance sheet. This match will be a good gauge for both teams. Nottinghamshire are favourites to bounce back and win promotion. Their team could include Alex Hales, Jake Ball and James Pattinson, although not Stuart Broad.

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If Notts exercise their right to bowl first then Durham’s new-look top order, weakened by the defections to Surrey of Scott Borthwick and Mark Stoneman, will be facing a Test-standard bowling line-up on the Riverside’s first pitch of the season.

There will be easier challenges to come but Durham are fuelled by a sense of grievance, and opponents expecting an easy ride against a team sapped of morale will be in for a shock. 

“We have spoken in the dressing room about it and said we have to have the season of our lives to get up,” Onions said. “We have always had unity, which counts as another world-class player in my mind so we will be OK. We have done as much as we can off the field getting our fitness strong. 

"But we are in a division we feel we should not be in. We should be in the first division. It is why we feel so harshly treated. But things happened that were out of our control as cricketers. All of it hurt. It was a kick in the teeth and I never expected it to be as bad. But it is up to us as a club to knit together. That is something we have done well for many years: stay strong as a unit and bounce back. 

Division Two | Scyld Berry's club-by-club guide

"The reality of the whole thing is they could have locked the doors and all of us would be out of a job. At least we still have jobs and an opportunity to do what we love.” 

Durham also have a new cheerleader-in-chief in Sir Ian Botham, recently appointed the club's chairman, who has dismissed the 48-point deficit as “just two wins”. 

“He has raised the profile of the club just by being here and his core values fit in with this club,” said Mark Wood. “Hopefully we can do him justice and go out and try to reproduce the same things he did when he played cricket and get the club back where it belongs.

“From the playing side of things we did not do anything wrong last year. We finished fourth in Division One so coming into this division teams know we are good and they will fear us and we have the motivation to do something. 

“It is a huge task but we are the only ones who can influence it. We have young lads who are going to be good cricketers and others with a point to prove. If we can use the energy the region has given us and the support of fans, not just from up here, then we can do something.”

Mark Wood, Paul Collingwood and Keaton Jennings Credit: GETTY IMAGES

Durham’s bowling attack is good enough to vie for the Championship title, let alone win the second tier. Wood is first change behind Graham Onions and Chris Rushworth, two experienced seamers brought up on the Riverside’s pitches and a big part of their Championship-winning teams of the recent past.

The back-up seamers look strong too, with Middlesbrough left-armer James Weighell, and South Africa-born Brydon Carse ready to kick on, along with Paul Coughlin, who impressed the coaches on the England Performance Programme fast-bowling camp in the winter.

But it is batting where Durham face a challenge. Replacing the runs of Stoneman and Borthwick will be daunting and there is a good chance that Keaton Jennings will miss the second half of the season on Test duty with England. Those three contributed 3,842 first-class runs last summer and 12 centuries. 

The onus at first will fall on Stephen Cook. Durham managed to squeeze an overseas signing out of their redrawn budgets and the South African opener arrived last week for the first half of the season. He will then join South Africa for their Test series with England and New Zealand batsman Tom Latham will take his place at Durham.

Paul Collingwood, captain in the Championship, remains vital to the side and Lewis is hoping young batsmen Jack Burnham and Graham Clark take first-team chances. 

Can they win promotion? “Yes. A slightly shorter season makes it tricker to overcome the deficit,” said Lewis. “But in 2013 we won the Championship by winning 10 out of 16 matches. We probably need to win eight or nine out of 14 to give ourselves a chance to go up. If we can win 10 out of 16, we can win eight or nine out of 14.”

Nine wins out of 14. No problem, as Sir Ian would say.

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