DURHAM coach Geoff Cook knows his side will have their work cut out when they open their 2013 County Championship campaign to Somerset on April 10.
The new set of fixtures were released yesterday, with the North-East county starting with a home game at the Emirates ICG.
Somerset were runners-up in the competition, and Cook believes they will have the hunger to go one better this time around.
He said: “Somerset have a very strong squad with a good mix of lots of international players past and present.
“They also have a lot of promising young cricketers coming through the ranks, which we saw in our games against them last season.
“Somerset have never won the County Championship, and I’m sure they will be determined to put that right.”
Last season Durham drew with Marcos Trescothick’s men at the Emirates ICG, and went down to a five-wicket defeat at Taunton.
Durham will face another tough test when the two sides meet at Chester-le-Street early next year, but Cook says it will be one of many stern challenges the county faces.
“A lot of teams in Division One are strengthening their squads,” he added.
“Surrey have made some very good signings, and Yorkshire are coming back up with a more experienced squad than the last time they were in this division.
“It means that it will be a very competitive championship this season, and that it is going to be a big challenge.”
Cook knows that Durham also need to strengthen their squad, but constraints make that far from straightforward after they were fined £2,500 for breach of the salary cap last season.
It was Durham who reported themselves to the cricket authorities after noticing the problem, and as a result of their honesty, and the fact that the breach was at the lower end of the scale, they only got a relatively small fine.
However, the English Cricket Board also deducted 2.5 points from Durham for the start of the 2013 championship campaign and 0.25 points in the T20 and Clydesdale Bank 40 competitions.
That means Durham must tread carefully when looking to make new additions this season.
Cook added: “The financial side of things makes it difficult when we are looking to bring people in.
“But we know that when you lose experienced players like Diva (experienced batsman Michael Di Venuto, who retired from the first-class game before the end of last season) and Liam Plunkett then you need to replace them, and that’s what we will look to do.”
Plunkett will return to face his old team-mates when his new team Yorkshire – promoted from Division Two last season – visit the Emirates ICG on April 24 for a Championship clash.
Durham Dynamos kick off their Clydesdale Bank 40 campaign against Essex Eagles, who make the trip to the North East on May 5.
The Dynamos finished fifth in Group B in 2012 – four points behind group winners Hampshire.
Durham kick-off their T20 campaign at home to Lancashire Lightning on Friday, June 28.