DURHAM are in a more secure financial position than at any time since their inaugural season in first-class cricket in 1992.

That's the view of chief executive David Harker following last year's £3.8m bail-out by the ECB.

But that doesn't mean they will be splashing the cash as they still have to repay Durham County Council, who agreed to convert loans of more than £3m into shares. They are also repaying a loan to the Local Enterprise Partnership, although the terms of that have recently become more favourable.

“We have a financial plan based on the agreement we have reached with the council and the ECB which allows us to invest in the business of cricket and redeem the capital to the council over a period of years,” said Harker.

“There would have been no point in the ECB keeping us afloat if we couldn't put a side out and maintain the ground.

“They are not vetting our expenditure. If we want to sign a T20 overseas man, for example, there is no requirement to run it by the ECB. But we can't throw millions at whoever becomes available.”

Following the disappointment of this week's inaugural day-night championship match, in which the final two and a half days were washed out, Harker is hoping for improved attendances in the NatWest T20 Blast.

The first match is at home to Lancashire next Friday evening, but the Friday visit of Yorkshire comes on August 4, clashing with Sunderland's opening match in the Championship, at home to Derby.

“We would have preferred that to be in July,” said Harker. “But hopefully the attendance will top 30,000 over the seven games. The figure has been fairly flat in the last few seasons so we would like to see an improvement.

“We can't allow the Blast to wither ahead of the new eight-team T20 competition being launched. I would be hugely disappointed if we didn't see some of those games here, but it's unlikely that we will be an exclusive venue for one of the teams.”

Durham are about to file their latest accounts, but as they go up only to last September it is next year's accounts which should show the much healthier financial position.

A delegation from the ECB will be present when Emirates Riverside stages a T20 international against the West Indies in September, when they will assess the ground's suitability for the new T20 competition.

They will also be considering what games to allocate to Durham in the 2019 World Cup, when it is expected that some of the three matches they have been promised will be day-night.

“We have a meeting with the ECB next month to consider how we can make those games benefit the wider region,” said Harker.

“We have to make the game more accessible. That was one reason for the day-night game this week. The number of people who paid £5 to come in after 5pm on the first day probably didn't cover the cost of having the lights on. But it's not so much about finance as giving them something they want to watch after work.”

Under last year's bail-out Riverside lost its Test status and Durham have handed back some one-day internationals in the past because they would have made a loss. But Harker is confident that won't happen again.

“The ECB have given us a commitment beyond 2019 to stage at least one white-ball international every year,” he said.

“The system of allocating games has changed, so it's relatively risk-free and we have no concerns about staging major matches.”

After attending a board meeting this week, at which two new directors were present, Harker is confident that Sir Ian Botham's chairmanship has already had an impact.

“I've always found him very straightforward to deal with, and he's very passionate and hugely committed. I speak to him most days and he's in regular contact with the coach, Jon Lewis.”

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