DURHAM will have to negotiate a tough start to the 2012 season without Paul Collingwood after the county cricket fixtures were released today.
The Riversiders open their County Championship campaign at home to Nottinghamshire on April 12 and have two trips to London – against newly-promoted Middlesex and Surrey – before the month is out.
May sees them host champions Lancashire, travel to Warwickshire and play Somerset home and away.
In all, Durham play seven of 16 Championship matches before June and Collingwood’s Indian Premier League commitments could rule him out of all of them.
The former England limited-overs captain is halfway through a two-year contract with Rajasthan Royals worth around £155,000 a year.
Injury meant he was unable to play last year.
It will be the third part of a busy winter for Collingwood.
He has signed for Perth Scorchers in December’s “Big Bash” in Australia, and is committed to the South African version in February/March.
The IPL is scheduled to run from April 4 to May 27. The Lancashire game starts on May 30.
It is because they will miss such a long and important part of the season that Durham are reluctant to let their players take part in the IPL, but when Collingwood joined the Royals he was still contracted to England and not them.
In recent years April and May have been particularly significant in shaping the Championship season, the eventual winners often doing the bulk of their points-gathering in that time.
Coach Geoff Cook acknowledged the importance of a good start and is still confident of getting one.
He said: “We played particularly well during that period of last season.
“We played on very good wickets.
“A lot of it is about the wicketsand the weather is a big factor at that time of year.
“We just have to use the winter profitably and make sure when April does come around we are ready.”
Durham begin their campaign with what is becoming an annual staple against Durham University.
This year the county host the three-day game, which starts on April 6. It provides a target for England all-rounder Ben Stokes’ comeback from a finger operation. This season’s Twenty20 group stage has been reduced to ten matches and will be played without interruption from June 15-July 8.
Last year Durham were one of many counties unhappy at having to switch between the shortest and longest forms of the game, sometimes on consecutive days.
The Riversiders have a tough 40-over group featuring last year’s finalists Somerset and Surrey, plus Hampshire, who knocked Durham out of last season’s Twenty20 quarter-finals.
Only one the group winners are guaranteed a semi-final place, along with the best of three second-placed sides.
Having released fringe players last season, and with the outlook on injury-plagued seamer Mark Davies apparently brighter, Cook is not expecting further changes. It means no overseas player for the third consecutive Championship season and any improvements must come from within.
Cook added: “We have lots and lots of good players but there are certain things you cannot legislate for, like injuries and international calls.
“The people at the bottom of the ladder must continue to improve, and so must the mid-term players.
“Liam Plunkett, who did not have a great year last year will be looking to play more cricket and we are hoping people like Mark Stoneman and Will Smith, who made excellent contributions, can build on them.”
Stephen Harmison missed the second half of last season through injury.
When asked if the fast bowler would be ready for Nottinghamshire’s visit, Cook replied: “We are hoping he can be.
“It (2011) was a chastening year for him.
“He has a lot to think about and the club has a lot to think about before we start again in April.”