County - 2014 county fixtures: Durham begin season at Northants

Champions Durham will begin the defence of their County Championship title with a trip to newly-promoted Northamptonshire next April.

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County - 2014 county fixtures: Durham begin season at Northants
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Durham have won the county championship three times in the last six years.

In the 2014 fixtures, which were released on Tuesday, Durham take on the MCC in the traditional season-opener in Abu Dhabi at the end of March and then open their league campaign in the second set of four-day matches, which start on Sunday, April 13.

Durham will go into the new season looking to claim a fourth title in seven years, but they face a tough-looking opener against a Northamptonshire side who won the Friends Life t20 competition last season as well as finishing runners-up in Division Two.

Division Two champions Lancashire, who needed just one season to get out of the second tier following their shock relegation in 2012, return to top-flight action in the opening bout of fixtures - which Durham are sitting out - when they take on Nottinghamshire.

That match at Trent Bridge sees Lancashire face the side they replaced as county champions in 2011.

Also in the first round of championship matches, which begins on Sunday, April 6, Sussex take on Middlesex in Division One while there are three games in Division Two - Surrey-Glamorgan, Derbyshire-Leicestershire and Hampshire-Worcestershire.

Big-spending Surrey were relegated last term after winning just once all season and they were joined in going down by a Derbyshire side who had been promoted as second division champions the previous summer.

Yorkshire, who were looking on course to be crowned county champions for the first time since 2001 last season before being pipped by Durham, begin their new campaign in the second round with a tough trip to Somerset, runners-up in 2010 and 2012.

Warwickshire, the 2012 title winners, also kick off their campaign in round two with a home game against Sussex.

The other matches beginning on April 13 see Middlesex take on Nottinghamshire in Division One, while in Division Two it is Gloucestershire-Hampshire, Essex-Derbyshire and Worcestershire-Kent.

The final round of championship fixtures begin on Tuesday, September 23, when the last two champions Warwickshire and Durham clash at Edgbaston in what could prove a key encounter.

In limited-overs competitions, the return of 50-over cricket after an absence of five years will take place on the weekend of July 26/27 when the Royal London One-Day Cup replaces the 40-over format.

The opening round of matches sees a mouthwatering clash between Roses rivals Lancashire and Yorkshire at Old Trafford, while 2013 Yorkshire Bank 40 winners Nottinghamshire are away to Sussex.

The 50-over final is due take place at Lord's on Saturday, September 20.

NatWest t20 action, meanwhile, begins on Friday, May 16, with one of the picks of the opening round seeing holders Northamptonshire and 2012 runners-up Yorkshire face each other at Headingley.

Finals day is scheduled for Saturday, August 23 at Edgbaston.

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