For so long a county that punched above its weight, Durham are about to embark on their toughest challenge yet.
Despite finishing fourth in Division One, Durham were relegated and had a 48-point deduction imposed as a result of financial irregularities.
The county also excelled in white ball cricket, reaching the final of the NatWest T20 Blast, only to lose in the final to Northants Steelbacks. This season, they will start the T20 Blast with a four-point penalty and two in the Royal London One-Day Cup. When Chris Rushworth says "it’s going to be tough", it is something of an understatement.
But the 30-year-old, who has experienced the highs of Specsavers County Championship and limited-overs titles knows just how resilient his club is. And he isn’t ruling Durham out of bouncing right back into Division One.
“I think everyone is quite optimistic that we’re going to be there or thereabouts," he said. "When you’re 48-points behind to start with, that’s two less games. Everyone is looking forward to the challenge but to do it would be pretty remarkable.”
Durham have been particularly encouraged by the goodwill coming their way throughout the rest of county cricket. That has only gone to strengthen the resolve at Chester-le-Street.
“The support from around the country has been phenomenal. Members from other teams buying memberships and stuff. It gives you that confidence and togetherness," he explained.
The support from around the country has been phenomenal. It gives you that confidence and togetherness
"We’ve always been quite a close group of players anyway, so to have something like this - that kind of adversity - it gives us that push right from the start. Hopefully it does drive everyone on. It’s going to be a challenge but I think everyone is looking forward to it.”
Looking ahead, the club opted for clout and appointed Sir Ian Botham as chairman. Never one to shirk a challenge, Botham says he will be "hands on" and in it for the long haul. Rushworth is excited to see what the former England great has in store.
“He’s a very popular figure inside and outside of cricket," Rushworth said. "The figurehead he is, I think that gives everybody a lift to have that name and personality in charge. I think everyone is looking forward to seeing what his plans are.”
Even with relegation and a points-deduction, Rushworth is still able to take a step back and realise how impressively Durham performed last season.
“We were probably one of the favourites to go down and we ended up finishing fifth from the match results. We did not have an overseas and had quite a small squad. Everyone was chuffed with how we went.”
As for individuals, while Mark Wood’s return helped inspire their run to the T20 Blast final, it was the exploits of Keaton Jennings that really stood out. He scored 1,548 Championship runs, with seven hundreds, and earned himself an England call-up over the winter, notching a century on debut. Rushworth, and the rest of Jennings’ Durham team-mates were delighted.
“It was incredible: the runs he scored, the innings he played" Rushworth said. "He just looked solid all the way through the season. When you’re scoring 1,500 runs a year, with half your games at the Riverside, that's impressive. All his accolades over the winter were well deserved.
“He’s a very popular around the changing room. He’s the nicest guy on the planet. Very down to earth and works extremely hard. He deserves everything he gets.”