As coach bids farewell to Durham, new fresh era beckons for club
JON LEWIS STEPPED DOWN LAST WEEK
BETWEEN them, Geoff Cook, Paul Collingwood, David Harker and Jon Lewis served Durham for 98 years – not bad considering the club has only been a first-class county for 26. All have left in the space of six months.
As starts go, next season’s could barely be fresher.
Coach Lewis was the latest to leave, after being marginalised by the coaching review carried out by Cook’s successor Marcus North.
Lewis was unable to recover from the devastating effects of Durham’s 2016 financial meltdown, but his contribution should not be overlooked.
Until then a top-order batsman in and out of Essex’s line-up, he has been a crucial figure in shaping Durham since 1997.
It was a tough time to be an opener. The team was still finding its feet in professional cricket, and the new Riverside pitch yet to settle down. By the time he retired in 2006, Lewis was the county’s highest first-class run-scorer and leading appearance-maker.
His contribution went way beyond toughing it out when the new ball was at its most spiteful.
To judge it by the league table, Lewis’ four years as captain were a miserable failure – eighth, ninth, sixth and ninth in County Championship Division Two. Once he handed the reins to Mike Hussey, the success story began. There was much more to his time than that, though. Collingwood and Stephen Harmison became England players and Graham Onions, Liam Plunkett and Phil Mustard, who all went on to wear the Three Lions, were handed Durham debuts by Lewis, along with Scotland captain Kyle Coetzer. Gordon Muchall started on the path to being a club stalwart, Mark Davies one of the county circuit’s best seamers, and for a while Andrew Pratt was its finest wicketkeeper. But the players who owed their success to Lewis did not end there. When he retired in 2006, he became second-team coach and gave plenty more future England stars their grounding. Durham won the 2008 Second XI Championship. They should never have won the first-team version in 2013. Those who predicted relegation were overlooking the revival Collingwood started when taking over as captain midway through the 2012 campaign but the Riversiders’ serious financial difficulties were just one of their off-field problems. Having already lost their greatest player, Dale Benkenstein, with a season-ending injury, they nearly lost Cook for good to a midseason heart attack. That should have been the end of their title aspirations, but Lewis stepped in as interim head coach, rallied the players he had nurtured and led them over the line.
He was rewarded with the job full-time in the winter, and marked his first season in charge with the One-Day Cup. So thin was Durham’s squad they only used 13 players winning it and their overseas all-rounder, John Hastings, missed the final because Chennai Super Kings called him up for the Champions League.
Lewis led Durham to a first Twenty20 final in 2016, only to run out of steam half an hour after beating Yorkshire in the semi-final. Their 2017 displays were terrible, but last season they surprisingly reached the quarterfinals. It is in the Championship where the modern-day Durham are measured, though, and since being demoted to Division Two because of their finances, they have never threatened to get back. The heart was ripped out of the team with Mark Stoneman, Keaton Jennings, Scott Borthwick and Paul Coughlin jumping ship. Mus-
Jon Lewis stepped down as Durham coach earlier this week. Left, former chief executive David Harker