THE greatest successes are the ones that are achieved in the face of adversity. Over the last five years, Durham have had to overcome more than their fair share of challenges. Points deductions, salary caps, top-class players leaving in their droves. A county that had risen inexorably since its first-class birth in 1991 was suddenly brought crashing back down to its knees.

Yet as the arrival of spring sunshine heralds the start of the new domestic cricket season that gets under way next week with the opening games of a remodelled County Championship, so a change in prevailing conditions is also apparent at Emirates Riverside.

Maybe it is the return of some of the players that left in the immediate aftermath of 2016’s financial collapse. Perhaps it is the imminent arrival of Will Young and Cameron Bancroft, a top-class international duo that will represent Durham in red-ball cricket this year. Either way, as the start of the new season approaches, so Durham’s swagger has returned. No long county cricket’s pariah, the game’s North-East outpost is determined to see former glories return.

“There’s a level of optimism at the club,” said head coach James Franklin. “In the last couple of years with Marcus North coming in and Tim Bostock being appointed as CEO, then myself following both of those guys, there’s been a bit of a rejig.

“Things have changed behind-the-scenes, and from a cricket point of view, there’s been a bit of tinkering with personnel. There’s been some nip and tuck, and there’s been some nice progress on the field, albeit that some of the results haven’t been amazing. We’re confident that, this year, we can progress again.

“What we want is to get Durham back to being a powerhouse in the domestic game. That’s the big aim, and we just feel now that we’re getting a squad that can start to move in that direction. Over the course of this year, and the years to come, that’s progressively where we want to get to – to a point where we are serious challengers again in all three formats.”

The return of England international Scott Borthwick has been interpreted as a pivotal moment in Durham’s rebirth, with the Wearsider having agreed to re-join his home club – he first linked up with Durham’s academy at the age of 11 – after leaving to join Surrey as the full repercussions of the ECB’s financial bailout became clear in 2016.

Ben Raine re-joined Durham in 2018, Paul Coughlin came back a year later, and now Borthwick has cut short his stay at The Oval to return to his roots. The 30-year-old leg-spinning all-rounder will captain Durham’s four-day side this season, with his return underlining both the county’s renewed ambition and the power of its ongoing connection to the North-East.

“It’s very obvious and plain what happened five or six years ago, and it was incredibly unfortunate for the county,” said Franklin. “Obviously, there are a number of players who were hitting their prime who left the club for various reasons. But the cool thing from my point of view, and the county’s point of view, is that a number of those players are starting to come back.

“Scott is the obvious example, but we had Paul the year before and Ben the year before that. It’s really important for us that we have that North-East identity in terms of the playing group and even the language that we have in the changing room. We have to have that identity about us, it’s really important, but the bonus is that they’re really good people and fantastic players as well.

“To get Scott back this winter is really cool. He’s a seasoned player in domestic cricket and has obviously played a bit for England as well. He brings a lot of leadership and experience, and was very much part of a winning Durham team from years gone by. For him, winning is a normal thing to happen here, and hopefully that will rub off on the rest of the playing group. I think people can see the direction that we’re wanting to head towards.”

Director of cricket, Marcus North, agrees, citing Bancroft’s return at the end of the Australian domestic summer as further evidence of his county’s desire to succeed.

“Cameron is having a fantastic season,” said North. “He's just scored his third century in the Sheffield Shield. To have an overseas player who knows what Durham is about, knows our culture, our players, what it means to play for Durham, is great for us and equally exciting for Cameron.”