TWENTY years since the historic first ball was bowled on Durham’s new first class cricket ground, an ambitious campaign is being launched to create world class facilities for the region’s rising stars in the sport.

Durham County Cricket Club has revealed plans to open a new centre for cricketing excellence next to its Chester-le-Street home, giving the next generation of young hopefuls the chance to play at the very highest level.

The Northern Echo is backing the club’s First Class Futures campaign, which will allow talented boys and girls from across the North-east the chance to follow in the footsteps of Ashes heroes Paul Collingwood, Steve Harmison and Ben Stokes.

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Durham hopes to raise £100,000 to begin work on a nursery training ground alongside the Emirates Durham International Cricket Ground, nurturing young talent and delivering a lasting sporting legacy for the region.

Once built, the development will finally fulfil the dream behind Durham becoming a first class county back in 1992, to allow the region’s most talented youngsters to flourish on home soil.

Club chief executive David Harker said: “In the past, the likes of Colin Milburn had to leave Durham to go and play elsewhere – that was the raison d’etre for achieving first class county status and that is part of our next challenge.

“Rather than have that drain of talent leaving the region, we now have people from outside the North-east wanting to come here to develop their skills.

“First Class Futures would create a clear pathway for our youngsters and most talented players to go from club cricket to professional cricket and even England”.