VISITORS to our Sporting Memories session a few weeks ago in Bishop Auckland were treated to cricket stories and memories from all over the world when Stephen Brenkley, a former cricket correspondent of the Independent on Sunday and The Independent, visited.

Stephen went to Barnard Castle School and had his first reports on the game published as a 14-year-old schoolboy before beginning his full time journalistic career with the Darlington and Stockton Times. For many years he was the John North columnist on The Northern Echo, and then, for nearly 20 years, was a cricket correspondent reporting on almost 200 Test matches from all the major cricket playing countries in the world, which included six Ashes series at home and seven in Australia.

He watched five World Cups and was a contributor to Test Match Special.

After retiring from journalism he turned his attention to his local cricket club and became president of Barnard Castle Cricket Club in 2014.

He lives in Barney with his wife Dorothy, daughter Evie, and dog Bailey, which is named after the great Essex and England all rounder Trevor Bailey (although, as he pointed out, it could have been named after John Joseph Bailey, the father of cricket in Barnard Castle).

The Northern Echo: Stephen Brenkley

Stephen brought with him his book Small Town, Big Dreams which is all about the life and times of Barnard Castle Cricket Club. It took him three years to write and was published in 2020.

One of the most bizarre international cricket matches that Stephen reported on was the Third Test on England’s tour of Pakistan in 2000, which was England's first tour to that country since captain Mike Gatting's infamous spat with umpire Shakoor Rana in 1987.

Stephen recalled: "The tour had gone very well diplomatically, but on the pitch it was decidedly tedious.

“The first two Tests had been draws and the third in Karachi was heading the same way as the game went into the last morning.

“Pakistan had lost none of their previous 34 matches in Karachi and this was going to be no different. However, England starting taking wickets with the last six going down for only 30 runs. Darren Gough, Ashley Giles and Craig White were all magnificent in their own ways.

“England needed 176 runs from 44 overs to win the game.

“Atherton and Trescothick started brightly and aggressively but Pakistan tried to waste time. Umpire Steve Bucknor was having none of it and waved away the Pakistan protests.

“England meanwhile sent Andrew Flintoff and Matthew Hoggard, who weren't playing, down to the side of the pitch to save time and move the sightscreens as the Pakistan bowlers changed their point of attack from over the wicket, round the wicket and back again, almost after every ball.

“Graeme Hick contributed some vital runs before Graham Thorpe saw England home."

Stephen continued: "The most pleasurable series from an England supporter's perspective was the 3-1 series win over Australia in 2010-2011. It was built on the 517-1 that England made in the second innings of the First Test in Brisbane. Andrew Strauss and Alistair Cook put on 118 for the first wicket and then Cook and Jonathan Trott put together an unbroken 329 runs.

“The match was drawn but it set a tone which was never to be altered.

“A few days later, England had Australia 2-3 on the first morning of the Second Test in Adelaide and won that easily.

“Sometimes, though, it is all down to fine margins because if you go back to that second innings at Brisbane in the First Test, Andrew Strauss shouldered arms to the first ball of the day from Ben Hilfenhaus. It came back on him and struck his pads. The Aussies had a loud appeal turned down by umpire Steve Bucknor so they went for a review upstairs.

“The review showed that the ball was just going over the stumps.

“An inch or two lower and the whole nature of the series could have changed."

Stephen gave another example of fine margins. It came early doors in Brian Lara's World Test record score of 400 not out at St John’s in Antigua in June 2004.

He said: "We all knew Brian Lara wanted the Test match scoring record back after Matthew Hayden of Australia had broken his previous record. Lara batted 13 hours to make 400 not out and was sublime.

“However, to the fourth ball of his innings, England to a man went up for a catch behind by wicket-keeper Geraint Jones who was making his debut. Darrell Hair, the umpire, turned the appeal down, but years later Jones was asked about the incident.

“"Put it like this," said Jones, "if it had been today we would have been straight on to DRS." The Decision Review System, or DRS, was not used in Test matches until 2008.