Durham celebrate 20 first-class years: Tim Wellock

As Durham celebrate 20 years of first-class cricket two men have been ever-present – Geoff Cook and chief executive David Harker, who was initially the accountant.

Cook was appointed a year in advance of Durham’s inaugural first-class game, which started at The Parks, Oxford, on April 14, 1992.

His desire was always to give opportunities to local lads, but most of the initial intake proved unsuited to the task and after the first few years Cook concentrated on youth development while Norman Gifford and then Martyn Moxon took charge of the first team.

Cook resumed the title of head coach when Moxon returned to Yorkshire and after the ominous beginnings Durham have gone on to achieve remarkable success.

They have produced six Test players in Simon Brown, Paul Collingwood, Steve Harmison, Paul Collingwood, Liam Plunkett and Graham Onions.

Phil Mustard, Ben Stokes and Scott Borthwick have also made one-day international appearances for England and Durham built the country’s first new Test ground for 101 years.

They won the County Championship in their 17th season – something three counties have never achieved – and retained it the following year.

Among those who have admitted they never thought any of this possible was Northumberland-born former England batsman Tom Graveney, who was present 20 years ago for the match at Oxford University.

He had fronted a video made to support Durham’s first-class bid and was also there to support his nephew David Graveney, Durham’s captain for the first two years.

It was not until the former Australian Test batsman David Boon was brought in as captain for the 1997 season, however, that Durham began to make serious progress. In his third and final year they finished eighth to qualify for Division One when the County Championship was first split into two divisions in 2000.

Boon was not adequately replaced, though, as Durham fell back on their previous policy of building a homegrown team. They were immediately relegated and, although they brought in Moxon as coach, there was a lack of ambition among the signings.

The emphasis seemed to be on stadium development and they continued to struggle for the next four years until the arrival of Clive Leach as chairman was followed by the signings of Mike Hussey and Dale Benkenstein for the 2005 season.

Promotion was achieved and after clinging on to Division One status by the skin of their teeth in 2006 Durham won trophies in each of the next three seasons. They beat Hampshire by 125 runs in the 2007 Friends Provident final then won back-to-back Championships.

Current scores at Riverside, not to mention the temperature, suggest Chester-le-Street is too far north for cricket in early April. But the pioneers who fought for first-class status have no cause for regret.

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