For details on how to contact our editorial and commercial departments, click here
Shikhar no ordinary Tom, Dick or Hari
9:29am Friday 31st August 2007 in News
HOODED against an English August evening, Shikhar Dhawan bowls into Etherley Cricket Club, drinks a single orange juice, repeats what he told them on the day that he arrived.
"One day soon I want to play for India," he says, and few around the Durham County League - certainly not league secretary Roy Coates, who watched him smash 198 in 40 overs at Crook on Monday - doubt that it will happen.
"I just don't know," says Roy, "how on earth he ended up at Etherley."
In the clubhouse bar, they're equally admiring. "We've had some tremendous professionals down the years but he's the best ever," says Hylton Balmer, 40 years an Etherley player. "I just don't know how we're going to hang on to him."
The man the Etherley brothers call Shaky - "You know, as in Shaky Stevens,"
says club secretary David Crane - is the club's third professional, decidedly third time lucky, of a difficult summer.
After the smart family home in Delhi, he now lives in a terraced house in Toft Hill, half a mile away - abed until 11 o'clock.
It's an acclimatisation which has embraced a pretty dreary few months - "I used to love rain," says the 21-year-old Indian, ruefully - and a meeting with Bulldog Billy Teesdale, a long-standing Durham County League umpire.
"A very nice man," Shikhar insists, and none (of course) has ever doubted it.
Etherley's first pro returned home because his father was ill, the second had to attend a coaching course somewhere.
The club were bottom of the league.
Dhawan arrived in mid-June, the start of the rainy season, having come all the way from Middlesbrough, where he was on holiday with a fellow professional when approached by an agent on Etherley's behalf.
Professionals come and go, anyway; pros and cons men.
Soon it became apparent that this one was no ordinary Tom, Dick or Hari.
He'd won a Gavaskar-Border scholarship to Australia and was top scorer and named man of the tournament in the 2004 Under 19 World Cup, averaging 84.16 with three centuries in seven games. He has a first class average of 39.14, including three 100s and eight 50s in 22 matches, and a one day average - mainly for India A - of 44.17, top scoring with 131 not out.
In Delhi he was watched by thousands, at Etherley the crowd would sometimes fall to a single, stalwart, spectator.
Against Mainsforth two weeks ago he smashed the 157- year-old club's scoring record with an undefeated 215 in 45 overs and with Danny Hinge also created a new league record for the seventh wicket.
At Crook on Monday he helped the team to 353-4, Michael Crane adding 119 in a 291 run opening stand, 13 short of the league record.
"He must have put a dozen into Dawson Street, I was getting worried about the cars,"
says Roy Coates. "He was dropped once or twice, mind, but they'd every right to drop them, the speed they were going.
"He's a tremendous player, takes me back to the days when pros were on the verge of Test selection and used the league as a shop window."
That Etherley have now won their last four games may be something of a recent record, too, though there was one occasion - a cup match - in which Shikhar was dismissed without scoring.
"Given out LBW," says David Crane, himself an umpire, in the manner of a man who thinks it wouldn't have hit the next-set-but-one.
Shikhar, goody not hoodie - "always smiling, always talking" says David Crane - also claimed 4-75 with his offspin against Crook, though he has yet to take a first class wicket.
The Durham County League?
"It's all right," he says. "They have been very nice to me here, and I'd like to come back again.
All I want to do is spend as much time at the wicket as possible. If that is with Etherley, right now I'm very happy."
The club, near Bishop Auckland, had been struggling for both players and performances. "Approach a player these days and his first question is How much'?" says Hylton Balmer.
"Shikhar has been a real shot-in-the-arm, a lovely man and an absolute fitness fanatic.
If he says he's going to play for India, I've little doubt that he will. Mind, he might think twice in future before going on holiday to Middlesbrough."
Carl's deal almost lost in translation
UP TO Gateshead for Birtley Town's first home Northern League game for 117 years, we bump into club treasurer Paul Magnay - whose son Carl's reward for winning the second series of Sky's Football Icon was a six-month youth contract at Chelsea.
Carl, an 18-year-old central defender, has now been offered professional terms - a particular satisfaction because after years at the Leeds United academy he was told he'd never be good enough.
His dad reveals, however, that the Chelsea deal nearly lost something in the translation.
Stamford Bridge sporting director Frank Arnesen - the Dane who spent most of his playing career in Holland and was Bobby Robson's number two at PSV Eindhoven - gave the young Geordie a scare.
"I have a problem," Arnesen told him. "I speak Danish and Dutch, I have good English and reasonable French. So how come I can't understand a bloody word you say?"
ALTHOUGH 16-year-old Joseph Reynolds had Alistair Maiden caught at slip from his first ball in North East Premier League cricket - a Maiden wicket, of ever - bowlers were unable to resolve a high scoring match between Blaydon and Benwell Hill on Monday.
This, as the wonderful Jack Chapman points out, may be because Benwell Hill had Khan and Cant bowling in tandem.
Shairaz Khan bagged 3-28.
Poor Tom Cant could only manage 0-83.
THIS reminds Jack of one of his early games for Leslies II, Bertha Milburn - Colin's mum - standing in as Burnopfield's scorer.
Tommy Clubbs opened the bowling for Leslie's. "Bowler's name?" shouted Bertha.
"Clubbs," shouted veteran skipper Norman Lees.
"Pardon?" said Bertha.
"Clubbs," said Norman. "The things you beat your wife with."
Save for the different name, Jack insists, a similar conversation ensued when Chris Cox opened at the other end.
TAKEN to hospital after collapsing during the World 24-hour championships in Canada (Backtrack, August 14), Guisborough ultra-athlete Sharon Gayter is quickly back on course - undeterred even by the news that a lady called Mi- Mi Anderson plans next week an attempt on her Lands End to John O'Groats world record.
After a week's rest, a stroll along the West Highland Way - 65 miles, six days - and a "gentle" 24-mile race around Cleveland's landmarks, she took part in an overnight 12- hour track race in Boston, Lincs at the weekend.
In the allotted time, the 44- year-old overall winner of last year's Northern Echo Local Heroes award covered 120.5km, beat the first man by 20km and was only 1.5km outside the best 12-hour time - male or female - in Britain this year.
The next really big one's the 24-hour Tooting Bec race in October. "My confidence," she insists, "is wholly restored."
ACHAPMAN hat-trick. Since cricket clubs are rarely paired together in league games in successive weeks, says Jack, was it unique that Neil Pratt of Darlington and Hartlepool's Paul Johnston each hit a century in both NYSD games between the two on August 4 and 11?
TOO long absent hereabouts, former Arsenal triallist Dave "Hawkeye" Gill - now in Eaglescliffe - reports on the 60th anniversary celebrations of Fishburn Park FC, in Whitby.
Among his team-mates was Dave Locker, now a retired trawlerman - "such a wonderful body swerve, could have kidded Captain Cook's monument into going the wrong way."
Back by the seaside, Dave also visited Fortune's celebrated kipper house and was intrigued to find the new sign outside that it was illegal to smoke on the premises.
It recalls, of course, the comics' favourite one-liner: if smoking kills, how come it cures kippers?
KEITH Nicholson, another faithful member of the Backtrack Irregulars, reports a successful day for Paul Cook, Whitburn cricketer and recently appointed secretary of the Tom Vasey DRV Challenge Cup.
Whitburn, perchance, met Eppleton in the final. Paul's 4- 30 not only doused Eppleton's challenge but won the competition secretary a winner's medal and the man of the match award, as well.
WEST Auckland's World Cup is off on its travels again, and definitely on cruise control.
We told in May how Kenny Wynne, Darlington-based Lottery millionaire and West sponsor, had taken the trophy on a world cruise in order to prove to QEII sceptics that it really was West Auckland, and not Uruguay, who won the first World Cup.
His talk on how it was done clearly captivated Cunard. "The cruise director has been asking if I'll take the cup on a round- Britain cruise in September,"
says Ken. "Apparently everyone wanted to hear more."
The World Cup will also be on show at a do in West Auckland FC's clubhouse next Tuesday evening, Ray Briggs - West's outside right in the 1961 Amateur Cup final - among those unable to be present.
A small world whichever direction you sail it, he'll be sailing on the QE II.
SOMETHING of a cloud, we hear, hangs over the sunflower competition between Spennymoor Boxing Academy secretary Paul Hodgson and his lad Gary, one of the coaches.
Gary's best blooms have mysteriously defoliated, amid whisperings that all may not have been done by the botanical equivalent of the Queensberry Rules.
"They're nearly all like bald eagles," says Gary. "I left him alone for five minutes while I went to get changed. I knew it was a mistake."
Hodgy's indignant. "It must be down to acid rain," he said.
The tale of the tape will ultimately decide who gets to buy whom a Chinese meal in Durham. The column may again have to measure up.
THE last registered amateur to appear in an FA Cup final (Backtrack, August 28) was Bill Slater of Blackpool, against Newcastle in 1951.
Alf Hutchinson in Darlington today invites readers to suggest what was unique about the hat-trick achieved by C L Townsend of Gloucestershire, against Somerset at Cheltenham in 1893.
Time to ponder, the column returns on September 11.