FORMER Northern Echo cricket writer Tim Wellock has written a new book, "The Best of Durham", in which he looks back on his years of covering the county's fortunes. Here. he provides an introduction to the issues he addresses.

AFTER covering the first 25 summers of Durham's first-class life, home and away, I had been privileged to witness the unfolding of a remarkable success story. Then came the bombshell. In The Northern Echo I described the punishment dished out by the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) at the end of the 2016 season as “utterly outrageous.” My view has not mellowed.

In return for a financial bail-out, the governing body ripped the heart out of what had become the most successful county club over the previous decade, not least by relegating them after a record run of 11 seasons in Division One. They had finished fourth that season.

Further details can wait until the final chapter. The dastardly deed has been well documented, and I remain convinced it was done largely out of jealousy. Durham had won five trophies in eight seasons and developed the best academy of all 18 counties, producing a string of England players where few had emerged before.

Between 2000 and 2010 Durham spawned four times as many Test players as Hampshire had done in the previous century, with Ben Stokes among those to follow. Yet it was Hampshire who were controversially reprieved by Durham's relegation. It also rankles that the Ageas Bowl, built after Riverside, inherited the mantle of England's seventh Test ground. There were to be no more Tests overlooked by Lumley Castle. Talk of “levelling up” the regions obviously hadn't registered with the ECB.

Five of Durham's best players moved to other counties and with Paul Collingwood reaching the end of the road at 42 there could be no quick fix. Youngsters seeking to make headway in 2020 were stymied by the pandemic, which did, however, inadvertently allow one of their products to shine.

Michael Gough's appearances in the bio-secure Tests helped project him to the status of the world's best umpire and his story is outlined under Best of the Rest in chapter 11.

Gough's decision to stop playing the game he loved at 23 highlights the difficulties which can be thrown up by adapting to professional cricket as a way of life. The mental processes involved in this most demanding of team games offer a recurring theme in these pages and the problem posed by ethnicity is also examined.

A strong team spirit is fundamental and the bonds forged by a North-East upbringing have reached out to embrace a few outsiders who were a massive help in reaching for the top. It is no surprise that two of those who left returned within three years.

Fresh pastures might look greener, but the pandemic provided a reminder that it's important to nurture the grass roots in areas of industrial decay. Places like Hetton-le-Hole and Sacriston have produced first-class cricketers to inspire youngsters for whom sports clubs provide an escape from misery.

The ECB would have done well to remember that in 2016. Four years later the lesson was even more pertinent as Covid hit the poorest hardest and there was increasing talk of a mental health crisis. Would clubs be able to bounce back?

Sadly, the demise of Durham was accompanied by a change in the cricketing media landscape. It seemed a far cry from the start of the journey in 1992, when every county had at least one local reporter accompanying them round the country. Even Northamptonshire had two, representing newspapers in Northampton and Kettering.

Enough of the lament. The main purpose of this book is to recall all that was best about Durham in those first 25 years.

In the beginning merely to have first-class cricket was a joy in itself. Then as the ECB continued to encourage the creation of a Test standard ground, leading to the crippling debt, Durham built a team to grace it. They were heady days.

*'The Best of Durham' is available by emailing the author, Tim Wellock, at