CHRIS Rushworth is fired up to help Durham defend the County Championship crown.
The Sunderland-born bowler produced some important contributions for his county last season as Durham clinched the title for the third time in their history.
Last year was a landmark season for both the player and the county.
Durham surprised many by winning the championship, while Rushworth took 50 first-class wickets for the first time in his career.
And the 27-year-old would love to do it all again, although Rushworth is taking nothing for granted.
“My hope for the season is quite simple – I want to keep my place in the side,” he said.
“The last couple of years have been quite good for me, and if I can build on that just a little bit, I will be happy.
“I just want to improve as much as I can on last year’s performance, and take a few more wickets, and hopefully that will lead to a few wins for the side.”
Durham start their title defence away to Northamptonshire tomorrow, and Rushworth is likely to be tasked with leading the bowling attack in tandem with star strike bowler Graham Onions.
With the likes of Steve Harmison, Mitch Claydon and Callum Thorp having left the county last year, Rushworth is now one of the club’s most senior seamers.
He is more than happy to take on that extra responsibility, which may increase even further should Onions win a recall to the England set-up, something which Rushworth expects to happen.
“I’m more than happy to do more if needed,” he added.
“I am happy to open the bowling – whether or not I’m ready, we’ll see – but I do expect Graham (Onions) to be away with England.
“I think everyone was shocked that he wasn’t on the plane out there to Australia for the Ashes, and I would be very surprised if he is not in the squad for the first Test.”
Durham’s bowling line-up ahead of tomorrow’s clash at the County Ground could well have a youthful look about it.
The match might come to soon for seamer Mark Wood, who is still making his way back from injury, while Ben Stokes misses out with a fractured hand.
And there is an injury doubt over spinner Scott Borthwick, who picked up a side strain in the three-day game against Durham University earlier this week.
That could mean that young bowlers Jamie Harrison and Usman Arshad could come into contention for the clash with Northamptonshire.
Harrison is certainly in fine form, having taken 16 wickets in pre-season, the most of any Durham bowler so far, while Arshad claimed two wickets in the University match.
But whatever the bowling line-up, Rushworth is certain that he and his team-mates will be raring to go when the season proper gets under way tomorrow.
And he says everybody is focused on repeating last season’s feat.
“I’m quite excited after winning the championship last year – and of course everyone’s just wants to do the same again,” he added.
“Winning the championship was just phenomenal for me, especially with me being a local lad.
“It was a team of lads I basically grew up with, and it was a massive achievement – it just felt amazing.
“Hopefully there will be more good times ahead of us this season.
“Last year I said at the start of last season I would like to take 50 championship wickets, and if I can do that this season, then I will be happy.
“And of course I’d love to take a few five-fors again!”