Shaun Pollock and Albie Morkel are aiming to transform Durham from Twenty20 strugglers to Champions League qualifiers after the South African pair flew into the North East yesterday following their involvement in the Indian Premier League.
At 34, Pollock has turned himself into a Twenty20 specialist after a glittering Test and one-day career, while Morkel is widely regarded as one of the best players in the world at the shortest form of the game.
Both signings represent remarkable coups for Durham and are a statement of their intent to improve in the competition, with this year’s finalists qualifying for a lucrative Champions League-style tournament featuring the best teams from Australia, South Africa and India.
Their first act as Durham players was to watch their new side lose a thrilling County Championship match against Hampshire by just five runs at the Riverside.
However, Pollock had nothing but good things to say about the club as he hinted he may also play some part in their Friends Provident Trophy semi-final against Kent on July 4, while Morkel will also play in that game and the Championship match against Yorkshire.
“As far as I’m concerned, Durham are a club on the up and I wanted to come here and be part of that,” said Pollock, who played 108 Tests for South Africa and 303
one day internationals over a 13 year period at the top of his profession.
“I’ve known (Durham captain) Dale (Benkenstein) for a long time, I think we were playing against each other at school when we were ten or 11 and then we played in the same side in South Africa (KwaZulu-Natal) for many years.
“That was a factor in my decision, but I’m also at the stage of my career when I want to give as much help as I can to young players.
“I remember the influence (West Indies paceman) Malcolm Marshall had on my career, it was a great experience for me and I hope I can pass on a bit of my knowledge.
“There are some very promising all rounders coming through here in Ben Harmison and Liam Plunkett and they could have a very big future ahead of them. Hopefully I can help them while I’m here because this squad can win this year’s competition.”
As one of the best known cricketers in the world, Pollock will add experience and ability to Durham’s Twenty20 squad, but the former Warwickshire player is also excited about the arrival of his countryman, Morkel.
The 26-year-old, has quickly forged a reputation as one of Twenty20’s best all rounders and Durham beat off competition from a number of rival counties to sign him.
Morkel has already qualified for the new Champions League tournament with his domestic side, the Titans in South Africa, as well as his IPL team Chennai Super Kings, and he wants to make it a unique hat-trick with Durham.
“I wanted to come and play county cricket and this was a great opportunity for me to do that,” said Morkel, a powerful middle order batsman who was ranked as the sixth best bowler at the end of the inaugural IPL tournament. “They are an exciting team and they are also ambitious.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to qualify for the Champions League with two teams so far and I’d love to make it a hat-trick with Durham. Who I’d play for if all three teams get there, I don’t know, that will have to be sorted out nearer the time. “I’m a genuine all rounder, I take wickets and I score runs.
I’ve just been fortunate that Twenty20 cricket has come along at this stage of my career because it fits my talents.”
There has been considerable concern that the financial lure of Twenty20 cricket in India will ruin traditional Test and one day competitions as top players decide to concentrate on the new form of the game. But Pollock, despite becoming a specialist himself in the twilight of his career, is more relaxed.
He explained: “I wasn’t around at the time, but I’m pretty sure people said similar things when one day cricket started, that it would lead to the end of Test matches.
“I think the hype surrounding Twenty20 cricket will die down eventually, but it’s very exciting to be a part of at the moment. It’s up to the administrators to run the game properly and make sure everything fits into the calendar.
“The Champions League-style tournament could be very exciting for the game, but I can’t see Twenty20 cricket taking over as some have predicted.
“Everyone I’ve spoken to still feels that one day and Test match cricket is still very important, it’s also probably the ultimate examination of your ability as a cricketer. That won’t end.”