Title hat-trick bid will be test of character

Trying to follow in the footsteps of Brian Close is pretty daunting. People keep talking about going for the hat-trick and he’s the one who is usually mentioned because he was captain of the last team to achieve it in 1968.

There were other legendary figures in that Yorkshire team like Trueman, Illingworth and Boycott, and Close is renowned as a phenomenally tough guy. Hopefully we have a few people with a similar strength of character.

I don’t know much about the Lancashire team which did the hat-trick in 1926-28, but the Surrey side which won seven on the trot in the 50s had loads of big names like Peter May, Ken Barrington, the Bedser twins, plus Loader, Lock and Laker.

I remember Ken Barrington presenting the trophy when I was in the Harrold Cricket Club team in Bedfordshire which won a national under 13s tournament. We beat Tynemouth in one round and they included the ex-Durham batsman Nicky Peng and Gordon Muchall, who’s still with us.

We drew our first three matches last season, so drawing the first one this time was not a huge concern. We were taken to the wire before winning the second one, and struggling to force a result at Riverside, where we won six out of eight last year, is partly a reflection of the pitches that we played on.

Being without Steve Harmison and Graham Onions, and now Mitch Claydon, is obviously a handicap on placid pitches and I’m still not sure how much effect the reduction in heavy roller use is going to have.

In the first match against Essex the pitch was slightly softer and the indentations made by the ball stayed quite prominent, whereas a heavy roller would have ironed them out. We think that’s why Dale Benkenstein was struck on the helmet by Graham Napier.

It will probably have the desired effect of fewer games petering out on dead surfaces, and the trend towards more games being won by sides chasing down targets could be reversed. But trying to balance these things has created quite a conundrum in deciding whether to bat or bowl.

We can theorise about these things, but we really just need to concentrate on playing better cricket for longer. Some days we will have the better of the conditions, and some days we won’t.

Against the weaker teams we would like to exploit our dominance by sticking them in and bowling them out. I’ve heard Lancashire used to try to play on any inferiority complex that might exist in the Durham side, and perhaps we should try to do that, especially once we get Steve Harmison fit.

But we would never become too egotistical. The Surrey side which had a chance of the hat-trick at the start of this century became known as the Showboats, but we’d be happier to be known as the Durham Dredgers.

That Surrey team had seven or eight in the twilight of their careers who had gelled together through a number of years. Replacing a team like that is always difficult. You always have to feed in young players, as we’re doing with Ben Stokes, and make the right signing at the right time, as we did with Ian Blackwell.

The whole staff here is concentrating on keeping the peaks longer and the troughs less frequent. It’s how you deal with a downturn that’s important.

Sussex have been relegated after a period of domination, but I have a lot admiration for the way they play. They are doing well in one-day cricket with young guys who put their heart and soul into it and further down the line that could help to make them into good four-day players. That’s what we are trying to do with our one-day side.

*Most of our team still enjoy a couple of pints of Guinness, despite our attempts to drink Dublin dry when we went over there for a couple of days at the end of last season.

When we went to Abu Dhabi to play the MCC v Champions match at the end of March the Guinness there was about £5 a pint, so we couldn’t afford it. Other than that I was really impressed with everything and would love to go again.

I think it would work well to have the match there as an annual event. The stadium is brilliant and could be a good international venue.

We also had a couple of formal functions in the hotel overlooking the Formula One circuit, where everything was quite spectacular, especially during Earth Hour when all the electricity was turned off and everything was candle-lit.

We also had an evening at the British Embassy, which was in a green haven with manicured gardens surrounded by huge skyscrapers. The ambassador gave a speech in which he referred to the MCC as Middlesex Cricket Club. He professed to be a Derbyshire fan, so he obviously doesn’t think the D in DCCC stands for Durham!

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