WHEN Scott Borthwick made his first-class debut for Durham in September 2009, he was stepping into a side that was just about to lift the County Championship title.

A lot of water has flown under the bridge since then, both for Durham, who were turned into the whipping boys of the English game by the ECB and forced to battle their way back from the depths of Division Two of the Championship, and for Borthwick, who played for England and also had a brief sojourn with Surrey before rejoining his home county ahead of the 2021 season.

Yet as he sat in one of the executive boxes at Seat Unique Riverside, sheltering from the slanting rain that inevitably provided the backdrop for Durham’s pre-season media day, the 33-year-old Wearsider was able to reflect on a cricketing journey that has turned full circle.

Borthwick is back at Chester-le-Street, captaining the side that first saw him rubbing shoulders with the likes of Paul Collingwood and Steve Harmison as he broke through as a fresh-faced teenager, and Durham are back in the top tier of the County Championship with realistic ambitions of challenging for major domestic honours this season. Individually and collectively, there have been a host of ups and downs in the last decade-and-a-half. When the new county season begins with the visit of Hampshire at the start of next month, though, both Durham and Borthwick will be back where they belong.

“Last year was really special,” said Borthwick, who will once again skipper Durham’s red-ball team this season. “I had the four years with Surrey, which I loved. At the time, I felt as though I had to make that decision to try to go and play for England again. But as soon as the opportunity came to come back, it was a no-brainer.

“It took us three years, but it meant a lot, last season, to get out of Division Two. When we lifted that trophy last year, as captain, it felt pretty special for me. We’re looking at a bigger picture than Division Two now though. We want to be back challenging in Division One.

“We were a club that were really successful, and when I was playing in that side, it was about being the best team in the country. It was, ‘How can we win Division One’, and that’s the language of what we’re talking about again now.

“What we did last year, that’s really what we should be doing in Division Two. Now, it’s about how we can win Division One. That’s the aim, and that’s where we’re looking, and that’s great.”

The Northern Echo: Scott Borthwick lifts the Division Two trophy last season with his Durham team-matesScott Borthwick lifts the Division Two trophy last season with his Durham team-mates (Image: PA)

Last season could hardly have gone any better for Borthwick and his team-mates. After being edged out by Sussex in their opening game of the season, Durham did not lose another four-day match for the rest of the campaign, eventually claiming the Division Two title by a whopping 66 points.

There were a number of star performers, with Alex Lees and David Bedingham excelling with the bat at the top of the line-up, Graham Clark delivering by far the best season of his career in the middle order and Ben Raine and Matthew Potts finishing in first and second position respectively in the list of Second Division wicket takers.

All should continue to play a prominent role this season, but Durham have not been resting on their laurels since winning promotion. Australian Test bowler Scott Boland has joined as an overseas player and will be available for the half of the season until late July, while heavy-hitting batsman Colin Ackermann and left-arm spinner Callum Parkinson have both headed north from Leicestershire.

With Ben Stokes and Mark Wood potentially available for an occasional appearance in the early months of the season before England come calling, and Brydon Carse back to full fitness after having to miss a chunk of last term through injury, Durham look to have a squad that should be more than capable of making an immediate impact in the top-flight.

“Last season was outstanding,” said Borthwick. “It wasn’t just the fact we won the league, it was how we won it. We played some outstanding cricket throughout the season, with some really impressive performances.

“We know this is going to be a different challenge, but we also know that with the squad we’ve got, we’re more than capable of challenging and doing really well. That’s the really exciting thing. We’ve got pretty much a fully-fit squad, which is unusual heading into the start of any season, and we’ve added really well over the winter with Colin and Callum, who have both come in from Leicestershire.

“Everyone’s got that sense that we’re pretty good, I think, and that’s the exciting part. We’re going into the season full of confidence, but also with a self-belief that we’re going to be alright.”

There is also a determination to adopt the same swashbuckling style that served them so well as they romped to the Division Two title last summer.

If England have ‘Bazball’ then perhaps Durham should be coining the phrase ‘Camball’ to describe the brand of cricket they have developed since the arrival of their Australian head coach, Ryan Campbell, ahead of the start of last season.

Just as Stokes and Brendan McCullum have championed a bold front-foot approach with England, so Borthwick and Campbell have done exactly the same thing with Durham.

Last year’s Championship victories were often characterised by aggressive batting, bold declarations and a desire to take the draw out of the equation in order to go all-in in pursuit of victory, traits that can also be seen within the current England set-up.

They were ideal for Durham last season, when the side’s superiority over the opposition was often accentuated by a willingness to take risks. Can the same philosophy succeed in Division One, when the standard of opposition will be significantly higher and when a number of Durham’s opponents will be looking to be similarly positive?

Borthwick thinks so, and perhaps more importantly, he and his team-mates are determined they will not be taking a backward step as they attempt to find out.

“The way we played last year was just brave, really,” said the leg-spinning all-rounder, who was part of the Durham side that spent last month on a successful pre-season tour to Zimbabwe that saw them enjoy a 100 per cent record in both red-ball and white-ball matches. “We just wanted to win games of cricket. Going back to when Durham were successful, and I was part of that side, we didn’t really have a brand or a style, it was more a case of, ‘How can we have some fun and just win?’

The Northern Echo: Durham captain Scott BorthwickDurham captain Scott Borthwick (Image: Durham CCC)

“That was what happened last year, really. We were constantly asking ourselves ‘How can we take wickets’ and ‘How can we score runs?’ We were playing with no fear, and we backed ourselves to do that. Whoever we were playing, or wherever we were playing, that was going to be our approach and our brand, it was going to be brave and it was going to be fearless.

“I think if you have that mindset, it’s amazing what you can achieve, and we showed that last year. There were games where we were on the back foot, but we still had the mindset of, ‘Right, how can we win from here?’

“If we keep asking ourselves that question, then we’ll start talking the right language and saying the right things. That’s still going to be our style and, in my mind, there’s no doubt that it can work.”