WHEN Durham won First Class County status back in 1992, one of the club’s founding principles was to halt the drain of North-East sporting talent away from the region.
It has since given a chance to some of the biggest names in cricket, offering England stars such as Paul Collingwood, Steve Harmison, Graham Onions and Ben Stokes their first break in the game.
It was home-grown talent which helped Durham win a memorable three county championships in five years and now the club hopes to take that principle one step further by creating the region’s first centre for cricketing excellence on the doorstep of its stadium at Chester-le-Street, which opened its gates 20 years ago this summer.
Now, a year after bring The Ashes to County Durham for the first time, the club is today launching an appeal to reach another milestone, the opening of a new training facility on land next to the Riverside.
The nursery ground will include a new professional standard pitch, allowing youth and women’s teams to get vital game-time on a high quality surface dedicated to the purpose.
There will also be grass and artificial surface practice nets where coaches can fine tune batting and bowling skills and a fielding area, state-of-the-art facilities which could be used by up to four teams at a time.
The nursery ground will provide a permanent home to Durham’s Second XI; its academy side made up of the county’s most talented teenagers on the verge of breaking through into the professional game; its women’s team and its five age group sides, ranging from under-nines to under-17s.
All are groups which traditionally struggle to get access to places to train and play, often relying on the goodwill of club sides across the county.
Durham County Cricket Club chief executive David Harker said: “We’re working with the council to identify a potential site adjacent to the stadium and part of the riverside sports complex.
“It would allow us to create a centre for excellence and a headquarters for cricket development in the region.
“In any sport, the end result depends on the quality of the coaching and the amount of time available for practice.
“At present there is a very limited opportunity for coaching. In particular, women and girls suffer in particular in terms of access to facilities”.
The reigning county champions were written off by most commentators at the start of last season, but surprised the cricketing world by winning the title with a side based largely on up-and-coming talent from the North-east.
Mr Harker said: “We have had fantastic success in the county championships and we’re lauded for our success in bringing young players into the game.
“Our success last year was largely a home-grown team and that is the model we want to go forward with.
“It is something which has long been on our agenda. After The Ashes last year, we believe now would be a good time to build on that success and make this our next priority.”
Among the stars of the title winning side was Sunderland-born Scott Borthwick, who rose through the ranks at Durham and made his England test debut earlier this year.
The 24-year-old said: “The real benefit of this is the chance for young people and adult groups to come and play in a proper environment, with great facilities.
“It puts the community that bit closer to the professionals which can only be a good thing.”
Club captain Paul Collingwood MBE, the Shotley Bridge-born all-rounder who won three Ashes series with England, added: “It would be a huge privilege for the club to have a nursery ground that the community can use.
“Where I do think a nursery ground would make a real difference is in showing young people what an accessible sport cricket is.
“Where cricket can really stand out above over sports is in the way in fits into community. Young people can play their sport on the same ground that we do, and that will give them realism – they will feel one step closer to professionals – that can only be a good thing for bringing through new talent.”
Ben Stokes, who moved to Durham seven years ago and broke into the England team last year, said: “Quite often the first team gets priority at local team grounds, so it can be tough to get access to facilities and train when you want. Women teams also often miss out.
“So having a ground that can be used by all - young people and women in particular - is something that I think can encourage more people to get into the sport.
• Anyone wishing to support the campaign can donate by sending a cheque, payable to Durham County Cricket Club Foundation, to First Class Futures, Durham County Cricket Club, Emirates Durham International Cricket Ground. Riverside, Chester-le-Street, County Durham, DH3 3QR.