What Happened Last Year?
Bluntly, last year did not go well for Durham.
They finished bottom of the North group in the Bob Willis Trophy (BWT), with three draws and two defeats in their five games. Admittedly, rain was a factor in two of the three draws, but the two completed games saw them hammered by first Yorkshire, and then Lancashire. Perhaps the biggest issue is that they reached 300 just once in eight innings.
Former Yorkshire batter Alex Lees was the only player to really shine with the bat, finishing seventh on the list of top run scores in the BWT, and being the only Durham player to score a hundred (although David Bedingham did make 96). To illustrate the difficulties, along with Lees (48.25), only Gareth Harte (41.66), and Ben Raine (41.33) averaged above 40 with the bat.
With the ball, it was Chris Rushworth who was as brilliant as ever. He claimed 16 wickets at an average of 22.37, but lacked support, with Ben Raine being the only other bowler to deliver over 100 overs in the BWT.
Key Player for 2021
The recent announcement of Cameron Bancroft's signing is a big boost to Durham's chances in 2021. The Aussie batter may be best known for his role in sandpaper gate, but his first-class average of 37.69 is good, and his 16 centuries boost Durham's talent.
Indeed, Bancroft's record with Durham is very good. In 2019, he played for the county in nine Championship games, averaging 45.37 for his 726 runs. After Lees was opening with former Kent bat Sean Dickson last year, it'll be interesting to see where Bancroft slots in.
Also key will be Scott Borthwick, who has returned to Durham after a spell at Surrey. Borthwick will captain the side, and with just two scores above 50, and only one wicket in the BWT last year, Borthwick will be hoping to improve his fortunes to give Durham their best shot.
It has been heavily foreshadowed throughout this article, but the oneDurham player who may get England interested is Alex Lees.
At 27, Lees is now entering his prime as a batter, and with 16 first-class hundreds to his name, is the key cog in this Durham line-up. While he has often struggled with consistency, after being touted for greatness in 2014, Lees did well last year to average 48, and after three hundreds in his first full year for Durham in 2019, with another full season on the horizon, a good year for Lees could come at the perfect time.
The target for this year?
Durham will face new competition in the re-structured County Championship, which you can read about here.
They have been placed in group one with Nottinghamshire, Essex, Derbyshire, Warwickshire and Worcestershire.
This will be challenging for Durham, and Essex will almost certainly get the better of them.
However, Nottinghamshire have been struggling for a few years now, and despite a good year in the BWT last year, Derbyshire will be challenged to try and replicate that through a full season.
That said, I don't see Durham doing enough to finish in the top two of the group, and make the Division One final stage. Although they could beat Notts and Derbyshire, Warwickshire, and Worcestershire, should both be better sides on the day.
So far, Durham's only signings are the returns of Borthwick and Bancroft, with financial difficulties seeing lots of players sadly released.
It is possible that South African Farhaan Behardien will return, having previously been a Kolpak for the side.
Overseas players: Cam Bancroft (Australia)