As a miserable winter comes to an end for the England team, an exciting summer for myself and Durham is about to begin.
The last few months have been a tough time for supporters of English cricket, from an Ashes whitewash to being bowled out by the Netherlands for 88 at the World Twenty20.
But the start of a new season is always an exciting and optimistic time.
After a very surreal month or two in September and October, it’s been good to get some cricket outdoors in the last few weeks.
We’ve been to Abu Dhabi to play the MCC, and to Kent for a series of limited-overs games. Next week we play our final warm-up match against Durham University at Chester-le-Street.
It’s already been an improvement on last year, when three days against the students was just about all the outdoor practice the snowy weather would allow us.
When you’re not able to get outdoors, pre-season can be a bit odd.
While a few of the lads went overseas to sharpen up some skills and continue their good form, I stayed at home and did my preparations in the gym and indoor school.Before Christmas I concentrated more on the fitness side of my game working alongside Mike King in the gym and at Future Fit North East, a gym based in Washington. After Christmas I slowly introduced more cricket into my training.
As we saw with Jonathan Trott this winter, it’s a fine balance between not doing too much to burn yourself out too early and making sure you’re doing enough to prepare for what is a very important season.
The fitness work I did in the winter of 2012-13 really paid off last season, as I reached 50 County Championship wickets for the first time, and with the start of the new campaign less than a fortnight away now, I feel I’m ready for what will be a very physically-demanding six months.
Durham’s pre-season stepped up a gear towards the end of February as most of the guys who had been abroad started to come back and we turned our minds to the county season opener in Abu Dhabi against a very strong MCC side. It’s the second year running I’ve played in the game which kicks off the English season, but the first time I’d done so for the county champions.
Things didn’t go as planned because, after a brilliant century by Virender Sehwag, we were beaten by six wickets.
But on the back of that loss came a lot of good things. Bowlers got overs into their legs and batsmen got to spend some time at the crease. I even managed to make my highest score in First-Class cricket!
We were missing a few key men for one reason or another but it gave some young guys a chance to show what they can do.
I think that’s going to be a theme throughout the 2014 season as we now have a very small, inexperienced squad, some of whom will have one eye on nailing down a place in the revamped England Test team.
It will certainly be an interesting season for us but one I am very excited about and I know everyone in our changing room feels the same.
It’s not every year you start a season as defending champions, and it’s something I’ve never done before.
We know everyone will be that bit more desperate to beat us now, so whether we have a squad full of internationals or young, talented, inexperienced players we are going to go out there to defend this title as best we can.
I’m not saying we are going to retain the Championship by any means but we will be trying our best to win each game.
I remember this time last year we were strongly backed as favourites to be relegated from Division One by many pundits and Press, and look what happened!
There’s nine days to go until we start our defence in Northampton, so come the 13th April we will be chomping at the bit to get going.
If we all believe then I’m sure we won’t be too far off come September.