DURHAM start a new County Championship season this week with their captain, Scott Borthwick, identifying the Division Two title as the club’s primary pre-season target.

The domestic calendar has been turned upside down in the last couple of years because of Covid, but this summer sees the County Championship revert to its more traditional format of two divisions, with two promotion and relegation spots to be filled at the end of the campaign.

Durham are in Division Two, and head to Glamorgan for their opening game of the season, which begins on Thursday morning.

Their performances last year suggest they should be capable of challenging in the top half of the table, and Borthwick is happy to admit that securing a place in the top-flight is a minimum ambition over the course of the next six months.

“We played some really good cricket last year,” said the former England international. “With how the format was, we just missed out on reaching Division One, so we ended up playing in Division Two at the back end of the year.

“There’s a good sense of expectation within the squad this year. We know that we should be a Division One side, so that’s our aim this year. We want to play well enough to achieve that.

“The top two go up, and the beauty of where we’re at now is that we don’t just want to go up in second, we want to be champions. I think that’s a really good place to be at the start of the season. We set high expectations, and we believe we’re good enough to meet them. I think we proved that last year.”

Durham’s County Championship squad has been boosted by the signing of Keegan Petersen, with the South African Test batsman set to feature in the club’s opening seven four-day matches.

It is also hoped that Ben Stokes, Mark Wood and Alex Lees will be made available for some Championship games, with the strength of Durham’s Test contingent highlighting the county’s continued track record for producing international cricketers.

“It’s amazing when you get the Test superstars who come over and play,” said Borthwick. “Keegan has had a brilliant start to Test cricket, and we’re buzzing to have him on board. If we get Stokesy and Woody back as well, then it would be amazing to have those guys because of the skill level they bring and their experience in the dressing room.

“They’re two great lads, and we’ve obviously got Alex Lees now as well who is a new Test cricketer. Hopefully, this dressing room is a good place to be.”

Borthwick and his team-mates were shivering at Riverside today as they took part in the traditional pre-season photo shoot, but while the forecast for the rest of the week might be fairly mixed, Durham’s players are raring to go.

“We got stopped by the snow down at Northampton recently - that’s when you realise it’s the cricket season,” joked Borthwick. “We’re really pleased with where the squad’s at. We’ve pretty much got a fully-fit squad other than Carsey (Brydon Carse), who is still struggling with his knee. We’ve worked very hard over the last three or four months, and we’re eager to get going.”