By Glen Robertson at the Emirates Durham ICG
Paul Collingwood described captaining his home club to their third LV= County Championship as “unbelievably satisfying”.
The former England all-rounder led Durham through a phenomenal season, that saw the side hit by a points deduction and tipped for relegation by many at the start of the year - not to mention losing inspirational coach Geoff Cook for a short period after he suffered a heart attack while out jogging - surge to the title by recording 10 victories with one game still to play.
Collingwood, who played little part in the two previous successes, led by example in the clinching game - hitting a season-best 88 not out as Durham recovered from 45 for five to 256 all out, before they wrapped up an eight-wicket victory on day three at the Emirates Durham ICG.
The 37-year-old hailed his side’s battling qualities to get through a difficult year in style.
“I don’t know what it is, I don’t know if we can bottle it, but it seems people in the north-east just want to keep fighting,” he said.
“These youngsters have fought all year through adversity, whether it’s been the finance situation at the club, thinking about contracts or Geoff Cook going down.
“It’s been a very special year where people have grown and that’s the satisfying thing for me; seeing the youngsters blossom has been absolutely wonderful.”
Durham’s side against Nottinghamshire included nine players who came through the club’s academy, with four aged 23 and under, not including 20-year-old Usman Arshad, who was replaced by Ben Stokes during day one, and Collingwood himself, whose arrival at the club pre-dated the academy.
Collingwood was delighted with how each player stood up to be counted.
He added: “What you tend to get with inexperienced cricketers is inconsistency, but the thing about this team is when someone doesn’t put in the performances then the next one puts in the big performance.
“It’s happened through the season. It’s not just been on this wicket, we’ve turned up at Surrey and Ryan Buckley has taken a five-for on debut, Jamie Harrison came back from injury and has done really well, Usman Arshad at the end of the season, guys who were pretty much in the academy have come in and have put in a match-winning performance.
“I could go through every single guy and say they have made a massive contribution throughout the season. We counted 17 guys have either got a fifty or took wickets at the right time or took a ridiculous, one-handed catch.”
The skipper highlights two important moments in the title-winning season. One, unsurprisingly, was the decisive victory at Scarborough when Durham beat closest-challengers Yorkshire, but the other came during in pre-season.
“We were going to go to Loughborough but it just rained non-stop for a week and we ended up going to Loch Lomond,” he explained. “We went golfing, shooting and fishing and went up (Scottish mountain) Beinn Dubh.
“It was one of the hardest walks I think anybody had ever done. We all did it, even the management, in two-foot-deep snow.
“When you got to the top it was a proper achievement. You know when things are meant to be. This is what the team is all about; we all did it together.
On the Scarborough result, he added: “Once we won that game I thought we’ve got this championship. I felt the guys were strong enough, for them to put in a performance like that, and no matter what hits us in the next few games, we can handle it.”
Collingwood was keen to lavish praise on 61-year-old coach Cook, who left the Durham players fearing the worst following his heart attack in June.
“The surgeons were saying it was looking ominous, that was the kind of language they were using,” recalled Collingwood.
“It was devastating for everyone who went in. For him to pull through was a miracle in itself.
"For Durham to have won it three times in 21 years - there’s many great players who haven’t won a county championship - a lot of it goes to Geoff Cook.”