Wisden Cricketer / Features

October 2007

Durham in the beginning

Durham's victory in the Friends Provident Trophy final showed just how far they have come in 15 years as a first-class county. Huw Turbervill charts their progress from Minor County to champions

Interviews by Huw Turbervill

Text size: A | A

Durham's victory in the Friends Provident Trophy final showed just how far they have come in 15 years as a first-class county. It was in 1992 that they left the Minor Counties, recognition at last of the immense passion for cricket in the north-east. Local boy Geoff Cook, the former Northants and England opener, was given the task of shaping a squad and Durham took the field that first season with a mixture of old and young and Ian Botham as talisman. It was a brave new world but the ground at Chester-le-Street was not ready and the campaign proved testing



"Looking back, the decision to leave Worcestershire to join Durham was one of the worst decisions I ever made" © Getty Images
Enlarge

Brian Hunt (Durham scorer):
I've scored for Durham for 32 years - 17 seasons in the Minor Counties and 15 in the first-class game. I didn't know what it was to lose from August 1975 till August 1982 - 65 games undefeated. We steamrollered sides. Without first-class cricket, however, the lads had nowhere to go. Talent fell by the wayside; they became teachers or took nine-to-five jobs. The northeast needed a first-class county.

Geoff Cook (Durham director of cricket):
My first-class career had finished with Northants in 1990 and Durham appointed me here in 1991. They were in the final throes of applying for first-class status. I played a season of Minor Counties for them that gave me the chance to run my eye over the recreational and amateur players. David Graveney was playing for Somerset and was chairman of the PCA [Professional Cricketers Association], so he could advise us; he was the ideal man to captain Durham in that first season. He was terrific with the media and did a grand job. The signing of Ian Botham received financial backing from Scottish and Newcastle Breweries; that was a real coup. I knew Ian fairly well from my county days and he was a terrific presence. David was in charge of the first team and it wasn't too regimental; there was no point with players of that experience. Ian, Wayne Larkins and so on fancied one last challenge; they enjoyed the razzmatazz and the circus.

Simon Hughes (Durham seamer):
Some big names were on their list of potential recruits: Chris Lewis was one, I believe. My contract had ended at Middlesex and I'd been at university in Durham, so I was aware of the depth of passion for cricket there. It was a new challenge and exciting. It was better paid than at Middlesex but, of course, there weren't many win bonuses.

Hunt:
We needed those older players for credibility. I had private reservations about big names coming in but they were all as good as gold. Ian still looks me up now when he comes to the Riverside.

Botham (from his autobiography, Don't Tell Kath):
Looking back, the decision to leave Worcestershire to join Durham was one of the worst decisions I ever made. There were, of course, great attractions. It was a new county, apparently full of ideas and ambition, and the prospect of playing home matches only an hour's drive from where I lived was appealing. But I should have known better. Quite early on I became aware of major problems behind the scenes. I was actually offered the captaincy. However, when later I met Geoff Cook, he told me he had already promised it to David Graveney. I was not happy but I shrugged my shoulders and accepted that Cook had not wanted me at the club in the first place.

Hughes:
How would the club wickets stand up to four-day cricket? What size might the crowds be? How many toilets would need to be installed? Everywhere there were fresh and not always pleasant discoveries - the biting wind off the moors at Gateshead Fell, the thieves at the Racecourse, Chester-le-Street's shirtfront wicket, the perilous scorers' crow's nest in Stockton's pavilion. Actually, playing on those out-grounds added to the interest; it felt like going back to my roots in club cricket.



Geoff Cook had a huge task on his hands in 1993 © Getty Images
Enlarge

Paul Parker, Larkins, Dean Jones, Phil Bainbridge and Hughes had been parachuted in to complement the homegrown talent like opener John Glendenen, offspinner Phil Berry, and left-armer Simon Brown, who was born locally but had played for Northants. Durham made a dream start, beating Lancashire by nine runs in the Sunday League on April 19 with Jones making 114. And soon they were celebrating their first Championship victory, by an innings at Cardiff. Brown took eight wickets, Stockton-born seamer Paul Henderson, 17, took three in the first innings, and there were centuries from Larkins (143) and Parker (124).

Steve James (Glamorgan opener):
It was us playing particularly badly rather than them playing well. They had a pretty old side, with a few youngsters, and not much in the middle - quite similar to now: some England players and good youngsters but they have had to bolster their side with Kolpaks.

Cook:
Henderson made a terrific debut but it was tough for those youngsters. The dressing room was full of strong characters and the youngsters needed education. Now the counties have their own academies. We knew Grav, Botham, Parker and Larkins wouldn't be around for long, so we needed to put in place a sustainable youth structure. Jimmy Daley was emerging, while Paul Collingwood first appeared on my radar in 1994.

Hunt:
After beating Lancashire, the one-day kings, and then the innings victory at Cardiff, we were on the crest of a wave; it was a fairy tale.

But Durham managed only one more Championship win. Before long some of the older players were running out of steam and the young were struggling to keep up.

Hunt:
The step up from Minor Counties to first-class was colossal. That's why we were whipping boys.

Botham:
[Cook's] big idea was that there should be no star system at Durham. It was his dream to build a kind of socialist cricket republic where all players would be equal. If he'd had his way, we'd have stood up before the start of each match and belted out a couple of choruses of "The Red Flag".

Hughes:
Cook and Botham fell out a bit. Botham wasn't prepared to compromise; he relied on the methods that had brought him his success. He was incredibly generous that summer. He had a lovely home, which I think he'd seen in Country Life; he hosted us a lot, particularly when we played near Darlington, letting us raid his wine cellar.

John Emburey and Phil Tufnell shared 17 wickets as Durham lost heavily at Lord's, although Berry took 10 wickets in the match.

Hughes:
The youngsters were finding it hard. I'm not sure many had the appropriate dedication; they lived for their Saturday afternoon matches, then for going out afterwards. There was a big socialising culture and they found it hard to adapt.



The picturesque Riverside © Getty Images
Enlarge

The wheels were truly off in the last days of that first campaign: Somerset won by eight wickets in Taunton, Lancashire by 10 at Gateshead. Durham did better in the one-dayers: joint eighth in the single-division Sunday League, NatWest quarter-finals, and third out of five in their B&H group.

Cook:
With Parker, Larkins, Jones, Botham and Bainbridge the batting was okay, but apart from Brown, we were short of wickets.

Botham:
I got on well with most of the playing staff, sharing some good times with the likes of Jones, Hughes and Graveney, but my real problems were with members of the committee. Initially promises were made that were never kept and the level of infighting grew and grew.

Hughes:
I think it was probably the right way to go. If Durham had just plumped for the local players, I think they would have been annihilated; it would have been like boys versus men. The youngsters, even Collingwood in the juniors, learnt a lot from seeing how Jones and Parker prepared.

Cook:
I wouldn't have changed anything, in hindsight. We had a lot of people to satisfy, the cricketing public in the north-east, the sponsors; ideally we'd have liked a fully professional approach and being able to sign players with more longevity but it was a different system then. Players were either Category A or B and you could sign only two Category A players in two years. It was a tough system. We owed a lot to the members who put in voluntary work to get grounds like Hartlepool, Stockton and Darlington up to scratch. It was a difficult yet romantic time.

© The Wisden Cricketer

TopTop
Email Feedback Print
Share
E-mail
Feedback
Print
ESPNcricinfo staffClose
News | Features Last 3 days
News | Features Last 3 days