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Potts promises more Bazball and title ambition from all-action Durham | Tanya Aldred
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Potts promises more Bazball and title ambition from all-action Durham | Tanya Aldred

When Matthew Potts announced in March last year that Durham were going to Bazball their way through the County Championship, it raised a few amused eyebrows. A draw, he said, was worse than a loss. “You’d rather lose every game this year and know you’re doing it with the right intent.” Yes, very nice dear.

But, it turned out, he was right on the money. Durham galloped to the Division Two title in 2023, thrashing second-placed Worcestershire by 66 points, while collecting more batting points than had been achieved before in the bottom tier, at a rollicking rate, and pinning seven wins to their chests. It was Bazball’s human face – phenomenally successful and with a grin more of grace.

So you would be daft not to listen to what Potts says a year on. “What’s the point in getting promoted if you’re not going to try to win the big one?” he says with a straight face. “So we’re going to try to win it.

“That’s the difference between good teams and great teams: you see it with the Test side. If they have a bad game, they’re going to approach the next Test the exact same way. That’s what great teams do. They don’t falter or change their tactics just because of one loss or one setback. Yes, the season might be a bit more turbulent than last year because everything did go very well for us, but if it doesn’t go the same, we’re going to try to grab the bull by the horns.”

If Durham do collect the pennant in September, they will have done what only two other teams – Nottinghamshire in 2005 and Essex in 2017 – have managed since the dawn of the two-division championship, win straight after being promoted. First, though, they will have to beat Surrey, out to collect their third championship on the trot, and with the added motivation of Alec Stewart’s departure from his hit-the-gym-at-6am-head-of-cricket role at the end of the season.

There should be stiff competition from Essex, who have lost Alastair Cook but gained Dean Elgar; Lancashire, who have secured the services of Nathan Lyon for at least the first part of the season; and Hampshire, if their trio of fast bowlers can keep up those astonishing level of service into their late thirties.

But Potts is not a rogue optimistic outlier. It is a chilly morning up at Chester-le-Street but nothing, even posing for the team photo in short-sleeved shirts, will dampen Durham spirits.

For Ryan Campbell, the coach from Western Australia who came to the north-east via the Netherlands and Hong Kong, cricket should be about joy. “I make very clear to our players that when someone walks away from a game at Durham they should be going: ‘Gee, I’m glad I went today, I saw great cricket, I saw smiles on faces, I saw the best of what English cricket can do.’

“It’s a bit hard for me to say that being an Aussie but I’ve invested, my family live here, my kids go to school here, they’ve got English accents, which drives me nuts. If we play the brand of cricket I know we can, we can do wonderful things this year.”

Like Brendon McCullum with England, Campbell’s effect was almost instantaneous after he took over in January last year. Not that he was without doubts. “When you’re a new coach, you hope that the players don’t think you’re just full of crap. You can say certain things but they have to believe in what you’re doing.

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“I knew I had them when we played our second game against Worcestershire. We lost our first game but the fourth morning they came to me and said we’re going to declare aren’t we? It was like, oooh are we?” He went home and told his wife Durham were going to win Division Two. “What are you on about?” she replied.

But after last year’s success, no one in Division One will underestimate Durham, whose squad – including the England hopefuls Potts, Brydon Carse and the wicketkeeper Ollie Robinson, and the run-scorers supreme Alex Lees and David Bedingham – has been boosted by England’s Melbourne nemesis Scott Boland, and Leicestershire’s Colin Ackermann and Callum Parkinson. And that’s before you throw Mark Wood or Ben Stokes into the equation.

And if the chief executive, Tim Bostock, offended county members by calling them “Luddites” for resisting private equity, others have been impressed with the efforts Durham have thrown into tendering to run one of the eight tier-one professional women’s sides the England and Wales Cricket Board has announced.

Durham want to be the best, in the women’s game, in white-ball, in the championship, a shining light for the whole north-east. Their first red-ball game starts on Friday at Chester-le-Street, when Hampshire visit. Don’t look away.

Source: theguardian.com