By Matthew Sherry
New head coach Jon Lewis is relishing his opportunity to take the reins permanently at Durham having stepped in outstandingly last year.
Lewis was forced into the top job in circumstances that were far from ideal during June when director of cricket Geoff Cook suffered a heart attack.
Thankfully, Cook recovered and the story had a happy ending as Durham won the LV= County Championship title.
And with Cook now moving to a position helping the next generation, Lewis finds himself in charge of the senior side on a full-time basis.
“It’s a slightly different role for me obviously, although I was pretty involved last year,” he said at the club’s media day.
“I am obviously making a few more decisions now but I am just really pleased with how the guys have responded.
“Being here through the winter, I have seen plenty of good work being done. It can be tricky indoors but we have done as much as we can.
“The guys who have come from overseas, it’s clear they have used the time well. I am pleased with what I have seen so far.”
Lewis’ task is far from an easy one given how high expectations are following last year’s success.
That triumph was out of the blue, coming amid many tipping Durham to be relegation fodder at the beginning of the campaign.
“I am looking forward to it immensely,” he said. “It’s going to be tough, no doubt about it, but nobody expected us to do a great deal last year and we achieved an awful lot.
“We’re really happy with the quality that we’ve got but we know as a side that we have to get better.”
Lewis’ appointment was something of a no-brainer for Durham, particularly as it offered stability.
With the county notorious for their focus on developing players, a man who knows the team inside out was always favourable to an ‘outsider’.
“Continuity is a real bonus,” added Lewis. “But we need to open-minded enough to look outside what we have done before and challenge ourselves to look at other things.
“We try to bring players through from Durham and we have a decent record with that. One of our strengths is we have a strong group of coaches and we hopefully have a good chance of bringing through other young players.”
Overseeing matters alongside Lewis will be joint-captains Paul Collingwood and Mark Stoneman.
Collingwood, currently part of England’s support staff at the World Twenty20, will lead Durham in the championship, while Stoneman is set to be responsible for the one-day forms.
For Stoneman, the new man on the job, promotion is a reward for how he took to the role when Dale Benkenstein – who retired over the winter – and Collingwood were injured for much of Durham’s Twenty20 campaign last time out.
“We’re splitting it with a view to how well Mark took it on last year in tricky circumstances,” said Lewis.
“He never really got a chance to get his teeth into it from the start yet picked it up and ran with it well.
“We obviously know Paul is a vital part of the side and decision-making process but he is not going to be here forever.
“We need to look at what is going to be happening in the future. It’s great for Mark because he gets the chance to get the experience.
“And he gets to do it while Paul is about, which is a bonus because Paul has a lot to offer.”