COUNTY Champions Durham play their first home game of the new season tomorrow when they take on Somerset at the Emirates ICG.
And wicket-keeper Phil Mustard hopes they can get the first win of their title defence in front of home fans, with the 31-year-old believing it is not beyond Durham to retain the title.
“Last year, the media wrote us off at the start of the season and said we had a good chance of getting relegated but the lads always knew we were better than that,” he said.
“We always felt we had a good chance.
“The previous season we’d won five of the last six games and we felt we might always do it again.
“Nothing really changed from the start of the season to the end of it; we just held our nerve.
“This year I feel we are stronger - we’ve lost a batsman or two but then you look at Michael Richardson, for example, who can step up.
“I feel it’s an exciting time for us and we might get Ben Stokes back for a few games to prove his fitness before he goes back to England, so it’s all looking good for us having another good season.”
Mustard accepts it will be a big challenge, though, with Durham the scalp others will want to to take and the new squad having a much more youthful feel to it than the one which started last season.
But he feels it is up to the experienced heads in the side - he’s 31 now - to play their part.
“The first year we won the County Championship title, wow, that was amazing - the first time the county had ever won it,” he recalled.
“The second time, it was a case of ‘well played lads’.
“But last year, it was great just to sit back and watch the younger guys enjoy the success of it - great to see how much it meant to them before I joined in with the celebrations.
“I won it at the age of 27 but these guys are winning it at the age of 20, 22 and it was great for them, a massive boost.
“Now I’m looking forward to us being a force again this season, because we’ve every chance.
“Yes we’ve got a young squad but there’s still plenty of players who have been around long enough to provide any support and help that’s needed.”
Mustard more than played his part in the season opener away to Northamptonshire which Durham were desperately unlucky not to win - a last wicket partnership of Rob Newton and Azharullah survived the final nine overs to deny the champions victory at Wantage Road.
Mustard took three catches in the match and scored 91 first innings runs in what was a game of positives for Durham, despite being unable to close out the victory.
Now they will hope to continue that solid form against Somerset, who drew with Durham in this fixture last season.
The 2013 campaign proved to be a disappointing one for Marcus Trescothick’s dangerous side and although they rallied to finish sixth in the final table, they will be hoping for better this time around. Their season too started with a draw - against Yorkshire.
Durham head coach Jon Lewis has named the same squad. Stokes (wrist) remains sidelined. Mark Wood’s side strain is improving and he is likely to play for the second team on Monday.
Durham squad: Paul Collingwood. Phil Mustard, Mark Stoneman, Keaton Jennings, Scott Borthwick. Michael Richardson, Gareth Breese, Gordon Muchall, Usman Arshad, Paul Coughlin,
Jamie Harrison, Chris Rushworth, Graham Onions.