HE has been an England opening batsman, chairman and secretary of the Professional Cricketers’ Association, Durham’s director of cricket and just the other day had the members’ lounge named in his honour.

Now Geoff Cook, 67, has been appointed chief executive officer of the North Yorkshire and South Durham League. “I’m not quite sure what I’m meant to do yet,” he says. “I haven’t any personal responsibilities, but I’m sure they’ll find me some.”

A genuinely lovely man, gentle and generous, he also made headlines in June 2013 after suffering a heart attack – “an unscheduled mid-season break” – while jogging near the Riverside Ground at Chester-le-Street.

He was found by someone jogging behind him – “he must have been awfully slow to be behind me” – was officially said to be critically ill, spent three weeks in an induced coma but made a complete recovery and was overseeing nets within days of his release from hospital.

Still he jogs, the chief pacemaker the little gizmo in his chest.

“It was just a freak accident. I remember the doctor at the hospital saying she couldn’t understand how the heart rate got like that,” he says over a lunchtime livener. “There’s no way it should happen again.”

Among the country’s top coaches, he’s also renowned for his support for the grassroots game (and most recently for addressing the annual gathering of the Coundon and District Society for the Prevention and Prosecution of Felons, though that worthy body’s interest in cricket was hitherto undocumented.)

So what if someone asked him to turn out again “I played for a mate of mine in Northamptonshire last season, didn’t do too badly” says Geoff. “I suppose if someone asked up here, the answer would be yes.”

HE was a Boro boy, his grandfather a Middlesbrough footballer who was killed in World War I, his father a cricketer and official with Ormesby Hall –“a proper village cricket man,” says Geoff.

Geoff himself played youthful NYSD cricket for Normanby Hall and Northern League football for South Bank. “I was centre forward, never going to be a Pele but a formidable double spearhead with Terry Turnbull. I think I got £3 a match.”

Weren’t they supposed to be amateur?

“They had to pay my expenses for walking to the ground,” says Geoff.

Whisper it, he was also an Arsenal fan, smitten by the hirsute heroics of Charlie George.

He’d been offered a place at Hull University, intended becoming an English teacher, when Northamptonshire offered him a county cricket contract. Team mates included another North-East lad called Colin Milburn, 16 years his senior.

Still Geoff’s 344-run partnership with Robin Boyd-Moss is a Northants second wicket record.

Geoff played in seven tests and six one-day internationals, amassed 23,277 first class runs at a smidgeon under 32 but went for 53.73, slow left arm, for each of his 15 wickets. “Colin Milburn was a much better bowler than I was,” he says.

His Northamptonshire captaincy from 1981-88 was described in England’s Test Cricketers as “authoritative”, his short leg fielding as “often worthy of the Brian Close Bravery Award.”

He became Durham’s director cricket in 2001, ahead of the county’s first class debut, became chief coach in 2007, helped the team to the Friends Provident Cup that season and to the county championship in 2008, 2009 and again in 2013, the year of the mid-season break.

“A lot of the credit must go to Geoff,” said Paul Collingwood, then Durham’s skipper, and dedicated the triumph to the coach. The coach, characteristically modest, demurs.

“They’d brought through a lot of good local players,” says Geoff, “but I was surprised at how quickly success came after six or seven years struggling in the second division. They were a very good set of people at Durham. It was a special place.”

AS an England player between 1981-83 he earned £200 a test. When he retired in 1988, still on a six-month contract, he earned just £15,000 – a free agent from the end of September to March.

One of the websites credits his tenure at the PCA with “improving the lot of the county cricketer.” The ex-chairman, forever self-effacing, credits the coincidence of Kerry Packer, more one-day competitions and greater sponsorship income.

Was there something of the working class warrior about him, though? “Well yes, there was.,” he says. “We got some professional help from a lawyer and a finance person and they were both fairly left wing. I thought it was right for the cricketers’ wellbeing.

“County cricket was a pretty austere place in the 60s and 70s. Players were pretty poorly paid in the summer and not at all in the winter. Counties paid players for six months but expected their loyalty for 12.

“There were some good people in cricket but it was still manifestly affected by the class system. There was a lack of security, you were free to do what you wanted in the winter so long as you turned up in reasonable physical condition at the end of March.

“Colin played rugby and was pretty good at it until his accident. I played my football with Kettering and Wellingborough. It was better than sitting around.

“The PCA had to do something, had to make the Test and County Cricket Board realise that we had some teeth. It was quite onerous at times, but in the end it was a success.”

SO now he’s a CEO-and-so, while retaining the director of cricket role at Durham Senior League club Philadelphia and involvement with “one or two” other clubs.

“I was having a chat with Chris West, the league president, and we thought it might be of mutual benefit,” says Geoff.

“The league has a fantastic committee and really high standards but maybe I can offer a little bit of support, advice and experience.”

Chris West, in his 16th year as president, says that the league created the chief executive’s role 18 months ago – and then waited for the right man to fill it.

“Legend is an overused word but that’s what Geoff is in the North-East – someone universally respected and looked up to at all levels of the game.

“The ECB’s strategy for 2020-24 is to ‘inspire generations’. Who better to be a leader of our organisation.?”

Geoff, he adds, is currently getting his feet under the table – “providing ambassadorial presence at many key events, we don’t want him to be bogged down with administrative matters.”

On and off the field, the NYSD is among the country’s strongest, with a marked emphasis on youth, but what about the village game, the real grassroots, where clubs and leagues constantly wither?

Maybe, Geoff surmises, the 40-over game is now too long. Maybe it should be 20. Maybe they need more innovative ways of prising the young from their smart phones and their televisions.

“What’s happening isn’t a criticism of cricket people but a criticism of society. Volunteers do a fantastic job but we need more people to make a contribution. As long as I can continue to make a contribution, I’ll be happy to do so.”

We’re at the Ramside Hall Hotel, near Durham, not a mile from his home, a lunchtime drink so enjoyable that it effortlessly overflows into almost three hours. Then he walks spryly back.

“I probably need to be a bit more careful but I still jog almost every day, still coach cricket and I feel great.

“I was fantastically lucky in 2013 but I’ve been lucky all my life,” says Geoff Cook. “I owe an awful lot to cricket.”