Durham chase hat-trick of pennants

Lv County Championship

Yorkshire, 1969

Brian Close, bottom row centre, captains Yorkshire in 1969, the year after leading them to their third successive championship title

Essex’s aptitude for top-flight cricket will be severely tested when they provide the first opposition for Durham in next summer’s LV= County Championship as the reigning champions chase a third successive title.

Yorkshire were the last side to win a hat-trick of pennants, under the legendary leadership of Brian Close in 1966, 1967 and 1968, and England’s newest first-class county have every chance of repeating that feat next summer.

Durham, captained by Will Smith for a second season, will look to Steve Harmison to lead their formidable pace attack, having committed his future to the club in the light of losing his ECB central contract.

Before hosting promoted Essex at the Riverside during the second round of matches from April 15, Durham first face the MCC in the traditional champion county match, the date and venue for which has yet to be confirmed.

Smith said: “There’s a lot of hard work to come, and plenty of ups and downs along the way no doubt. We’re certainly not taking it as a given that we have the right to win a third title.

“We have to earn that right, the same as the last two years. If we can get into that same winning frame of mind there’s no reason why not but we have eight other teams looking to do exactly the same.

“There’s a lot of cricket to come before then but Somerset are a very competitive team, a quality side.

“If it does work out that Durham play Somerset in the last week of the season for the championship, then great

“Those are the kind of situations we’d love to be involved in but if we win it with two games to go, all the better.”

Division Two champions Kent play Nottinghamshire at Trent Bridge from April 15.

Essex, who took the second promotion spot last season, are also involved in the first round of championship matches, beginning on April 9, at home to Hampshire at Chelmsford.

The other notable fixture in the opening week will see Matthew Hoggard lead Leicestershire in the championship for the first time, in the customary East Midlands clash at Grace Road against Northamptonshire, who missed out on promotion by a single point last year.

Sussex’s first match in Division Two is a visit to the SWALEC Stadium to play Glamorgan, while Worcestershire’s new signing Alan Richardson immediately faces his old club Middlesex at New Road.

Meanwhile, new Sussex spinner Monty Panesar will make his return to Northampton on May 18.

The first Roses match of the season is at Headingley Carnegie on May 29.

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