Chris Rushworth: Northampton reminded us how tough Division One will be

Four really hard days in the Northamptonshire sun just showed how hard life in Division One of the County Championship will be this season

David Rogers/Getty Images David Willey of Northamptonshire
David Willey of Northamptonshire

The summer is back! After three cold, drizzly days against Durham University last week it was nice to go to Northampton for our first County Championship game this year and be met with glorious sunshine for all four days.

The wind was still a little chilly but it was great to start the defence of Durham’s title in bright sunshine this week.

Northamptonshire gave us a hard-fought game which went into the last delivery of the final session before we had to accept a draw.

A great effort by our whole bowling unit put us within one ball of victory but in the end it wasn’t to be.

However those four days showed just how strong and tough the County Championship Division One is going to be this year.

Northants are playing in Division One for the first time since 2004 and showed they are more then capable of holding their own this year.

When you consider the players they had missing through injury – they only had 12 to chose from and one of those, David Willey, was unable to bowl because of a stress fracture of the back – and the problems they have had getting an overseas player (Rory Kleinveldt was the latest to pull out through injury, days before the game), it was a great effort by the home side to save the game.

It’s hard to predict the Championship winners and the relegation sides on the evidence of the first few days of the season. Whatever your aims are for this year it’s going to be hard season all round.

Northampton’s was quite a difficult pitch to try and force a result on and, as the scoreboard showed, for four days it’s been a little bit more batsman-friendly than you would expect at this time of year.

To get so close to winning was something we can be very proud of.

When you look at Durham’s first game last year at Chester-le-Street it was a completely different type of surface but that’s the beauty of county cricket – if you want to win the Championship you have to be able to produce on all kinds of surfaces, like we did last season

Not that anyone in our dressing room needed it, but it was a reminder of just how hard we have to work as bowlers. It was a great challenge for our opening game.

Somerset will be in town on Easter Sunday for our first home game of 2014 and, while it would be nice to get the same sort of weather we’ve had in the East Midlands, I’m hoping the pitch is a bit different!

Stockton start the defence of their North East Premier League title at home to Whitburn on Saturday.

The Teessiders’ title was their first and the league looks to be getting stronger again after last year saw a few more teams won games against the so-called “big sides”.

I think that improvement will continue again in the 2014 season.

One side who seem to have strengthened well are Hetton Lyons, I’m pretty sure they will be in the title reckoning this season.

The holders may find it a little tougher than last time round as I can’t imagine they’ll see much of Keaton Jennings and Jamie Harrison, who contributed well for them last year but are likely to have big parts to play for Durham.

I also think Whitburn will be a surprise package as they play their first year in the competition.

Runs from Stu Walker last year proved a strong part of their armour and I believe he’s a good enough player to carry that into the Premier Division.

They’ve had a big boost in signing Durham all-rounder Paul Coughlin – one to watch for the future in first-class, never mind league cricket.

I see the strugglers this year being Tynemouth, Benwell Hill and, I hate to say it, but my local club Sunderland.

All three have lost players and found it hard to recruit replacements so they will struggle.

Yet, as Durham showed last year, predictions don’t always go as planned, so time will tell.

Good to all league cricketers and particularly to Sunderland CC!

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