It’s a bit fresh,” says Marcus North. He is laconically referring to the bitter weather in the north-east, but Durham’s director of cricket might also be describing the new regime which
is now in charge at the Riverside.
Last April the club appointed Tim Bostock as its chief executive and in September North was named as director of cricket to replace Geoff Cook, who had retired. Former first-team coach Jon Lewis departed over the winter and this week it was announced that James Franklin would be the lead high-performance coach.
And if that wasn’t enough, Paul Collingwood retired from cricket last September amid tears, tributes and a pavilion named in his honour. Collingwood’s replacement as Durham’s four-day skipper has yet to be named, but there is no doubting North’s excitement as he settles into the job of reviving the county’s cricket and taking overall charge of the attempt to win promotion to the First Division.
“There’s a lot of hard work ahead but this season presents a great opportunity with three teams going up out of the ten in Division Two,” he said. “That gives us a fantastic chance to push ourselves and see how competitive we can be.
“The main objective is to have clear progression in all formats; we want to be competitive and consistent and if we get that right, it’s inevitable that we’ll be in contention. If we can win promotion this year, that will have been a very successful campaign.”
North understands how much cricket matters in the north-east. This is his fifth winter in the area and he arrived at the Riverside having spent over four years as chief executive of the very successful South Northumberland CC. He also knows how much the widely reported ECB sanctions hurt the club in 2016, but he believes Durham is ready to move on from that grim period in its history.
“I had no doubt about the effect those sanctions had, but there’s been a real change in direction over the last 12 months,” he said. “The club has taken a deep breath and now we have a new chief executive come in. There’s been a change in the coaching structure and we’ve made a couple of good signings in Alex Lees and Ben Raine.
“A line has been drawn in the sand and our focus now has to be on being competitive again. I don’t think we can use the relegation and the financial issues with the club as a reason or as an excuse any more. We’re very positive about what the future holds from a cricketing point of view and also off the field from a financial point of view.”
North is also aware that even as sanctions were imposed, the club’s Academy was being praised and he is committed to helping maintain that production line of high-class cricketers, many of whom come from some of the most powerful clubs in the country.
“After I retired I still played club cricket for South Northumberland, and I understood very quickly that the standard of league cricket here is very high,” he said. “That is shown by the national trophies clubs have won and we will focus on tapping into that talent and making sure we’re producing as many home-grown players as we can.”
“History offers clear evidence that our Academy system run by John Windows is extremely successful. We’ve seen a lot of cricketers from the north-east come through to play professional cricket. That’s something we’re very proud of and it’s a high priority that we continue to do that.”
For the moment, though, North’s immediate task will be to welcome Franklin later this month and to give some thought as to the appointment of captains. There may also be a T20 signing to announce before the pre-season tour to South Africa in March.
“Durham was my first county back in 2004 and I’ve lived in the north-east for nearly five years, so I’ve been a supporter. To use my experience as a player and in business, and have an influence on where Durham’s cricket might go is a privilege for me.”
PAUL EDWARDS / Photo: Getty Images