County Championship: Durham 'good now and going to get better'
Durham head coach Jon Lewis says the county are well placed to build on last year's title triumph.
By Graeme Mair
Last Updated: 31/03/14 9:41pm
The north-east county topped Division One for the third time in six seasons in 2013 and their win tally of 10 was three more than any of their rivals.
Lewis has been at Durham as a player and coach since 1997 and stepped up to take charge of the first team when director of cricket Geoff Cook suffered a heart attack last June.
Cook recovered sufficiently to join in with the title celebrations and, while he remains at the club, his focus has switched to youth development with Lewis taking charge of the first team on a permanent basis.
Dale Benkenstein, the leading run scorer in the club's history, and Will Smith have both left for Hampshire during the winter, in Benkenstein's case to take up a coaching role. Veteran seamer Mitchell Claydon joined Kent and Callum Thorp was released.
Australian all-rounder John Hastings is the only major addition to the champions' squad but he will not join up until after the Indian Premier League finishes.
Lewis is comfortable relying on Durham's well established policy of promoting from within to fill any gaps.
"I'm looking forward to the new season immensely," he said. "It's going to be tough but nobody expected us to do a great deal last year and we achieved an awful lot.
"The side has changed a little bit again over the winter but we know as a team that where we are now is good and I'm really happy with the quality we've got.
"It's also a side that is going to get better and we have to work along those lines and improve as we go forward. We're good now, we're going to get better."
Pre-season preparations have included a brief visit to Abu Dhabi where Durham lost a four-day game against a strong MCC side by six wickets.
Reflecting on the merits of the trip, Lewis said: "It was definitely productive. Conditions are alien compared to an English county season so, from that point of view, it has its disadvantages but being outside on grass as a team for the first time since September was good, although it did rain on the last day which was a shock to us all!
"Scott Borthwick bowled 42 overs, how many leg-spinners get that before April? Four of the seamers got the thick end of 20 overs each under their belts and four of the top six spent good time at the crease. That's hugely beneficial because indoors you can only take your game so far."
Durham have also confirmed Mark Stoneman will lead the limited-overs team in 2014, having done so previously in an interim capacity, while Paul Collingwood remains skipper in the championship.
Collingwood has been away on a coaching secondment with England at the World Twenty20 and could yet find himself with a permanent role in the post-Andy Flower era - although Lewis has been in regular contact and reported the 37-year-old was "raring to go" for the new season.
Like Collingwood, opening batsman Stoneman, 26, is a local boy.
"There's a lot of lads that have come through the system here and have a lot of pride in playing for Durham," said Stoneman, who made 1,000 first-class runs for the first time in 2013.
"It's not just myself. There have been role models before, the likes of Steve Harmison, Paul Collingwood, Graham Onions, and you see now Scott Borthwick and Ben Stokes getting into international sides.
"It's established that there's an opportunity to go through the ranks here from the academy, second team to first team cricket, put in performances and make it as an international cricketer.
"We've got a good support staff who help you get as much out of yourself as possible. If you put the work in and get the right breaks at the right time then international honours are achievable."
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