By Will Jennings
Given the ‘Beast from the East’ and the recent conditions that have blighted the country, it seems ridiculous to even contemplate the notion of cricket in Durham’s snowy circles at this moment in time. However, March is upon us and the long-awaited cricket season is fast approaching, with enthusiasts across the University training and gearing up for what promises to be another summer of fervent competition.
Durham’s MCCU team are relishing the challenges that lie ahead. Indeed, the advent of their 2018 season is imminent, beginning in just a matter of weeks as they prepare to face the first-class counties of Durham, Warwickshire and 2017 County Championship Division One champions Middlesex.
The side have much to look forward to over the coming weeks. While the first-class fixtures of April await, the group are set to travel to South Africa at the end of March to prepare for what appears to be a testing start to their season, visiting Cape Town for a series of warm-up matches.
Although the trip is still yet to be confirmed owing to the city’s acute water crisis, the side will be hoping that the weathering gods exchange some of the UK’s snowier precipitation for some long-overdue Cape Town rainfall in order to facilitate their visit.
If the trip takes place, the MCCU team will play Sussex CCC as well as a selection of university sides in the shadow of Table Mountain. With games against four county sides in the pipeline before the competitive season gets underway next term, the schedule appears the perfect way to prepare for what is set to be a challenging season.
The side have been boosted by the return of first-class talent Charlie Macdonell, a player who was absent last year after signing a professional contract at Derbyshire CCC. Will Fraine has inherited the captaincy from Joe Cooke and will be accompanied by Jason Marshall at the top of the order, while Ben Graves will look to build on his impressive form last season at number five.
The team’s bowling attack will seek to demonstrate potency in the opening fixtures, with seamers Alex McGrath and Mungo Russell supported by dynamic all- rounder Freddie Ruffell, who looks set to bat at six. Spinner Abhiraj Singh will look to be as effective as possible on some early-season pitches that may not be so conducive to turn.
With the season looming, optimism is in abundance, with captain Fraine confident that his side should be capable of challenging for silverware. The team possess strength in depth, with considerable competition emerging for a number of places. Should the trip to Cape Town go ahead, it will provide them with the perfect form of preparation for the games that lie ahead.
The snow may be falling in Durham, but the cricket season is just around the corner.
Photograph: Durham University Cricket Club via Facebook