England and Wales Cricket Board formed on 1 January 1997. Lord McLaurin was chairman. The former Tesco boss set out his stall to sell the game, slogan ready to hand : “No change is not an option for cricket”. ECB’s blueprint, Raising the Standard, aimed to raise standards of playing and management; to increase income, interest and the game’s profile. It would affect every level of cricket from Test arena to school field. More youngsters had to be introduced to the game, better links forged between club and school with County Boards more closely involved. Of seventeen key proposals three had particular implications for club cricket :
- Bridge the gap between recreational cricket and the First Class game and provide the opportunity for all the most talented cricketers to fulfil their potential.
- Give talented cricketers the opportunity to progress seamlessly through club and non-First Class representative County cricket to the First Class game.
- Establish a national network of Premier Leagues for the top club sides by the start of the 1999 season.
Premier Leagues would “bring about a quantum leap in standards”; would enable batsmen play long innings and encourage bowlers to attack rather than contain. Matches, preferably in two-day Australian ‘grade’ format, would be played at grounds with the best possible facilities. A “limited element of promotion and relegation” would provide incentive to the ambitious (Premier clubs would
receive an annual grant from ECB) and increase excitement in ‘feeder leagues’. ECB would consider prohibiting overseas players in Premier Leagues and perhaps stipulate a certain number of under-25s be included in each side. Second, Third and Youth XIs would be expected to find their own levels locally. That freebie was a give-away. In other words the majority of clubs would remain where they had been for the last hundred years. Not in a supermarket but like corner shops struggling perpetually to remain solvent. The plans provoked sharply divided views. Some thought them a great opportunity, others considered them little more than wanton vandalism. Reality lay somewhere in between.
So toward the Millennium and formation of a North-East Premier League (hereafter NEPL). “Whether you do it now matters little. You will have to do it someday if we are to progress,” predicted Etchells in 1935. Echoing Bulmer before him. And Mallett before both. NEPL would have twelve clubs : eight from Durham, four from Northumberland. Durham Cricket Academy would be elected as of right and exempt from relegation to protect ECB’s aim to groom players for the county side. It took some organising. ECB issued guidelines and requirements for a successful application. Seventeen applied. Over a year was wasted trying to agree a system of feeder leagues to facilitate promotion to NEPL. It was a barren exercise. Leagues cherished their autonomy and their own estimation of their standing and esteem. With a century of history behind them, chairmen adopted entrenched positions. “I don’t want to be remembered as the chairman who presided over the break-up of DSL,” vowed Tommy Clish. Ken Gardner stood resolute as Horatius on the bridge : “We have not guaranteed a club relegated from the Premier League a place back in the NYSD.”
Geoff Cook, intelligent Durham Cricket Executive, was clear in his direction. His précis of the imminent revolution echoed Rome’s fear of the Tiber filling with blood. “Cricketers in the North-East are particularly proud of their leagues, their history and the rôles clubs play within their communities. The principle of the idea in terms of providing the best cricket and the best facilities is wonderful. It will help to bridge the gap between the recreational game and the First-class game. From our point of view we want to have the best possible path for any player to progress into the full county side.” Ah, there’s the rub. Unwittingly, Geoff assumed the mantle of Harry Mallett, once the “sun and centre” of Durham cricket. Except that Cook’s mantle was potentially divisive, rather like that of Prospero who “bedimm’d the noontide sun” and set roaring war between sea and sky. Geoff was wise to that possibility : “Whether through politics, money or history, there will be a lot of blood spilt.” We have yet to discover how much. Some wanted no part in the revolution. Clubs that would happily coach lads and take pride if they made the county side were less happy at the prospect of coaching the best for hours then losing them to NEPL without guarantee of making the grade. Bob Scott’s raised hackles were not uncommon : “The county is not going to dictate Eppleton’s future.”
The long debate over feeder-leagues allowed time for clubhouse discussion about NEPL’s make-up. Individuals made lists, changed them ad infinitum. My list of Durham clubs was elemental, contained seven of eleven still in existence from the 1891 County Senior League. (Barnard Castle, no longer a major NYSD club, were not considered.) The reasoning was equally simple. History and tradition would prevail down a hundred years.
NEPL announced its twelve disciples in March 1999 : Bishop Auckland, Chester-le-Street, Darlington, Gateshead Fell, Norton, Stockton, Sunderland, Durham Cricket Academy plus four from Northumberland. Five of the seven Durham clubs were 1891 founder members, a sixth was elected in 1893. If the final selection seemed to snub modern, go-ahead clubs it understandably included three with facilities that served as First-class out-grounds. Recent league success was clearly not a major consideration. Gateshead Fell and Sunderland had not won a title for almost 30 years, Stockton for 23. At least Norton were reigning champions even if it was 47 years since their previous success.
Meetings were held to formulate a constitution in line with ECB requirements and to consider local needs. Clubs could register one overseas player and hire one Durham contract player at £75 per match. There was no bar on payments to others. No club would be relegated in the first two seasons so the matter of feeder leagues lay idle on the table. Nothing has since been resolved beyond a list of nine feeder leagues and provisos if the situation arises. Two economic factors were ignored : neither the interests of spectators nor consideration for clubs without limitless funds who depended on sales of amber nectar. Both points centred upon hours of play. A majority desire to start play as early as practicable posed problems. Travel was one. Teams had to be at the ground an hour before start of play. Would players in ‘a 24-hour society’ always be available for an early start? Would spectators used to watching in the afternoon change lifestyle to attend at 11 am? If not, they might arrive at their usual time to find the match almost over if a side was dismissed cheaply. If matches finished early clubhouses could be half-empty on Saturday night when clubs generally sold most beer. Such factors appeared not to concern the majority. In time their significance could be real.
The potency of those factors diluted when NEPL’s structure was thrown into confusion by NYSD’s refusal to guarantee re-admission to a relegated club. Stockton re-affirmed its application; Bishop Auckland and Darlington withdrew; Norton wavered. NYSD was a complex, integrated structure of 26 clubs with first, second and third teams spread over five divisions. Norton’s uncertainty centred on concern for the status of their 3rd XI that NYSD refused to accommodate. NEPL had no alternative but to exclude them and they were replaced by reserve club, Blaydon. Norton then changed tack, said they would join if their 2nd and 3rd XIs could play in Division B. NEPL agreed. Not the most forthright way to launch a flagship league.
Sunderland won the first title. Fitting it should go to Durham’s oldest club and a long-awaited present for 85-year-old president Tom Bowmaker. Ever resplendent in club sweater, the ex-Ryhope bowler has followed Ashbrooke’s fortunes for 50 years. Sunderland struck the front in mid-July and gradually increased their advantage. West Indian pro Cameron Cuffy and long-serving skipper Adam Applegarth were a formidable new-ball combination. Applegarth’s value to the club is enhanced by the funds he generates. Not only was Cuffy one of the highest paid local pros but the club could afford to register ex-Durham all-rounder Darren Blenkiron to bolster the side for the last ten matches. Experienced Simon Old and fine prospect Lee Rushworth were pick of the batting.
Matches were 120 overs, the side batting first restricted to 65 overs. Declarations were rare. Understandably, clubs were uncertain of the strengths of new opponents but the first aim of most was to avoid defeat. Sixty per-cent of matches were drawn. Only one in four sides was dismissed as bowlers found it difficult to prise out batsmen mainly intent on survival. Stockton provides example. Not that survival concerned Dawnley Joseph. The West Indian pro savaged four big hundreds and was first to score 1,000 in NEPL. However Stockton’s bowlers conceded nine of 25 centuries scored that season. Only Cuffy averaged more than two wickets per match, reason perhaps why his club were champions. The aim for batsmen to play longer innings was achieved but spectators yearned for a little adventure and the odd imaginative declaration. Players expressed satisfaction with the cricket and the format. Nationally it was different. At the end of 2000 ECB dropped opposition to the 50-50 overs split if individual leagues so wished but insisted a draw must still be possible. Of 24 Premier Leagues in 2001, NEPL was one of only seven to retain ECB’s preferred quota of 120 overs.
Chester-le Street sent out a virtual new team from 1999. Risky from the point of view of club morale, perhaps, but they were champions in 2001. The new men were top quality. They ranged from England Under-15 batsman Daniel Shurben to shrewd captain Tony Birbeck and experienced Thorpe, Worthy and Quentin Hughes when he came down from Cambridge. ‘Q’ arrived after scoring the last century in a three-day ’Varsity match at Lord’s. It was his second successive ’Varsity Match hundred, a feat matched only by Majid Khan. Ashley Thorpe made his reputation as an attacking left-hander at Eppleton. He scored 179 not out in 2000, highest in NEPL, and shared an unbroken second-wicket stand of 283 with Shurben, the tenth highest partnership of all time. Next season he hit 1,000 NEPL runs and 5 centuries. Born in New South Wales but qualified by residence, Thorpe earned a Durham contract in 2002. Allan Worthy, no longer a tentative opener, averaged 50 over three seasons as TSL pro. Moreover, he had recovered marvellously from broken tibia, fibula and damaged cruciate ligament sustained playing football. Allan drives powerfully through the off, despatches anything leg-side far over mid-wicket. That he is now back to his best was confirmed when voted Sunday Sun Cricketer of the Year in 2001 and 2002. An articulate, perceptive student of the game, Worthy has reservations about NEPL’s superficial tinkering with rules and the 65/55-overs split.
Blaydon demonstrated that a homespun side can live in elevated company by finishing third in the first two seasons. Under the inspiration of pro Nehemiah Perry, Mark Drake’s class batting and Stephen Humble’s late swing impressed against tough opposition. As did Durham Academy’s Marc Symington, Gary Scott and Gordon Muchall who scored 254 for England Under-19s in 2002. Scott serves as example of how Durham’s youngsters now develop. Educated at Hetton Comprehensive, Gary is a product of Hetton Lyons’ youth coaching. He graduated through all youth levels for Durham and England and hit a century for England Under-15s. Given a fair wind under the old set-up he would tread the same path as Milburn. He would leave Hetton, gain DSL prominence, represent the county and perhaps get a chance in First-class cricket. That will not happen now. He will skip the club branch line and be fast-tracked to distant stations, his fate a heady mix of excitement and disappointment. If his contemporaries follow the same scenario it seems inconceivable there is substance in the headline GAME’S FUTURE IN DOUBT. The game will change but club cricket will endure. While Scott, Symington, Muchall suffer the slings and arrows of cricket’s fortune their peers and successors will perpetuate the club game to the last syllable of recorded time.
The not-so-secret diary of Nicky Peng, aged 17¾. 2 May 2000. A classy on-drive takes me to 98. There’s a cool breeze and bright sun. They match my clear temperament. I tuck my bat under my arm, adjust my gloves while awaiting the next delivery. It is a bit too close to my body. I try to cut. Aah! I’m out. Caught behind. Peng walked off to sympathetic applause from the crowd and empathetic pats from Surrey fielders. Nicky, who hit a double hundred between lunch and tea for England Under-17s, was within a whisker of becoming the youngest to score a century on championship debut. Paul Collingwood, who hit a handsome 66 that day, scored 91 on First-class debut in 1996. Such near-misses are the stuff of reminiscence. More pertinently, their achievements define the advance of north-east cricket. Of those who took the field on Durham’s Championship debut four were Test cricketers, six (including Simon Brown) had played for other First-class counties. Glendenen and Brown were the only locals. Of the eleven against Surrey only four had played First-class elsewhere. Collingwood, Peng, Brown, Daley, Killeen, Betts and Stephen Harmison all graduated from local clubs. Brown gained a lone Test cap at Lord’s in 1996 and Harmison made his England debut in 2002.
One event that year highlighted another major influence upon Durham cricket. Some have questioned the value of overseas pros but few have been more welcome than Jimmy Adams (qv). Jimmy was born as Greenley mourned the end of club cricket as a major spectator sport; played his first match for Jamaica when the grass at Wearmouth grew tall as his island’s sugarcane; and made his Test debut during his engagement at Eppleton. How thrilling, then, for Adams and local enthusiasts that he should captain West Indies v England in a One Day International at Riverside just half a dozen miles from his adopted club. That chain of events represents an evolutionary thread entwining two distant cultures converging on a common point. An integration rooted in days when estate hands joined the gentry on a cricket field at Lambton. Durham men met with the best of All England in 1847. They now unite with the best in the world.
TSL was under no pressure to amalgamate with Northumberland County League. Blaydon had joined NEPL but TSL still had twelve clubs, now the norm in the north-east (NYSD apart) and as it was in the 1950s. Forming Northumberland & Tyneside Senior League (hereafter N & TSL) had merit. If it seemed a backward step to resurrect the 1933 membership it added the spice of promotion and relegation. With 20 clubs the League was strong, more so with 12 in two divisions in 2002, and it rescued Northumberland from an uncertain future. Durham’s elevation to First-class status had unified the two northern-most counties, a bond further strengthened when NEPL and N & TSL formed.
PRO-FILE (No. 31)
JAMES CLIVE ADAMS
(b. Kingston, Jamaica, 9 Jan 1968)
Articulate, gracious, popular left-hander at Eppleton (1989-93, 1996). Fitness fanatic. Lightning cover-point who bowled and kept wicket. Exceeded 1,000 league runs each season, hit 16 league hundreds and topped DSL batting three times. At Nottinghamshire (1994). For all he played 54 Tests and captained West Indies he said that spending his spare time washing cars at a Sherburn Hill garage was “better than sitting at home watching TV”. Jimmy Daley was one of many grateful for Adams’ high coaching commitment to youngsters. Replaced injured N.A.Perry at Blaydon, July 2002.
League record : 143 inns 55 not 7,395 runs (av 84.03) 16 hundreds 239 wkts for 3,818 runs (av 15.98)
N & TSL had one division of 20 in 2000. Each aimed to be champions though a more realistic aim was to finish in the top ten that would form Division One. Northumberland club Tynedale were champions and chairman Brian Taylor pronounced the new set-up “a great success both on and off the field”. The cut and thrust now began in earnest. Ashington, another Northumberland club, took the title in 2001. A system of 3-up-and-3-down maintained optimum interest. Benwell & Walbottle (ex-Northumberland) were promoted with Lanchester and Burnopfield. Whickham were relegated but Shotley Bridge and Tynedale were reprieved so each division had 12 clubs when the League extended. There are weak sides among so many but Division One is highly competitive.
Shotley Bridge were quick to sign D.C.Jackson when he left neighbours Consett. Jackson matured into a quality batsman alongside Wasim Raja at Chester-le-Street and Lance Cairns at Bishop Auckland. Neither bequeathed their ability to bludgeon the ball far so Jackson remained an archetypal opener : rock-solid, reliable and a pain in the backside to bowlers. He compiles runs with the certainty of Doomsday. His nine years as pro at Consett, aged 40-48, are an intriguing part of David’s career. Secretly, he cherished a title, strained every nerve to achieve it and scored 7,156 league runs (av 49). The close-cropped, steely-haired ‘Silver Cowl’, now bowling medium pace with pin-point accuracy; ambled through 3,500 overs for 666 league wickets. The figures bear comparison with the two pre-eminent pro all-rounders, Coxon and Greensword, at the same age. One perverse oddity somehow epitomises David’s single-mindedness. Even allowing for his famed pad-play, it was extraordinary that in 1998 he could open the batting and not get off the mark until the twenty-second over. That unwanted statistic was forgotten when at last Jackson gained a TSL medal with Shotley Bridge in 2002.
You need a road map to follow Ian Stoneman’s career. Since Ian left Burnopfield in 1980 he has had ten clubs, most as pro. Stoneman, who wields a bat vigorously as a mad village blacksmith, once made a 43-ball league hundred. Swing bowling is his forte, however, and though ‘Rocky’ has put on weight he always gives his all. Heart problems could not blunt his determination nor did the latest attack dull his optimism. His one regret was not being able to turn out with his son who had just made the 1st XI. When medics brought forward an operation by a day Ian considered telling his wife but decided not to in case it gave undue concern. Two months later he was back in harness alongside his son. There have been better cricketers than Stoneman but few more brave.
The loss of four clubs to NEPL seriously affected DSL. Left with ten, they admitted Hetton Lyons then enlisted Marsden and South Hetton when Philly moved to NEPL in 2002. The amputations seriously weakened DSL and marred its centenary year. A league with 210 fixtures in 1998 reduced to 110 in 2000. The number of batsmen averaging 25 to qualify for the published averages dropped by half. It certainly lightened DSL’s statistician’s workload. Where once he tabulated 70,000 runs it was now 33,000. Damned statistics, it is true, but they put the reduction in vitality in sharp perspective. Each match has its own context but overall there was less to cheer, less to marvel or savour.
DSL had the compensation of two fluctuating title races won narrowly by Horden before pro Mark Benfield, leading DSL scorer, helped Burnmoor breeze home in 2002. Ian Conn bagged another 77 wickets in tandem with Martin Thursfield. Neil Young, Barry Dews and John Tindale made valuable runs and Gary Brown recorded a 14th league ‘ton’ on a rare appearance. Horden began sluggishly in 2000 but lost only one of the last eleven to get their noses in front before rain diluted the season‘s end. Next year they lost only once and gradually pulled away over the last five matches. Handsome stroke-maker Adrian Hedley was leading batsman. Spinner Nadeem Khan’s 98 wickets underlined increasing attacking potency. Andrew Robson bowled with admirable consistency at the other end. Robson made his debut in 1986 and graduated to Surrey and Sussex. He returned as pro at Ryton and Wearmouth to build an undeniable reputation for removing the top-order. Whole-hearted Andy bends his back and never misses a match. His determination is a model to modern fast-bowlers who seem to pick up injuries with apparent ease.
Durham clubs had little joy in NYSD apart from Blackhall being runners-up in 2001 thanks to sparkling Imran Jan and ever-reliable John Darby. For the second time in history there was no Durham club in the top six in 2000, a lack of success highlighted by Bishop Auckland’s extraordinary decline. NYSD formed a Premier Division and four lower divisions with promotion and relegation in 1998. Bishop Auckland, runaway champions in 1999, were bottom next year. They escaped relegation only because facilities at Barnard Castle, winners of Division One, did not meet Premier Division standards. ‘Bishops’ problems mounted when the core of their title side were lured to other clubs, two admittedly as professional. Pro Aaley Haider made 943 runs but his heroics came to naught; week after week the win column showed nought. There was a lone victory as autumn approached. Inexorable nemesis. After being in the top division since 1906 Bishop Auckland were replaced by Wolviston, relegated in turn after one season. Darren Blenkiron’s class shone like a beacon in the lower division to give promoted ‘Bishops’ an opportunity to recapture former glories in 2003.
PRO-FILE (No. 32)
DAVID CHRISTOPHER JACKSON
(b. Alnwick, 29 June 1953)
At Langley Park (1977-78), Annfield Plain (1984-87), Bishop Auckland (1991), Consett (1993-2001) and Shotley Bridge (2002). Began career at Langley Park where he hit 164 at the age of 17. Moved to Chester-le-Street (1973-76) where he returned in 1979 to refine an almost infallible batting technique. A single-minded approach emphasised by the fact that he remained unbeaten in all but six of his 32 hundreds 1,000 league runs five times. Best 1,212 at Consett when topping TSL batting in 1995. Made himself into an extremely accurate seam bowler culminating in a record 120 TSL wkts in 1998.
League record : over 22,000 runs. 32 hundreds.
The formation of NEPL had little initial effect upon D.Coast and D.Co but the vibrations shuddered in 2002. D.Coast was reduced to twelve clubs, D.Co to thirteen and promising talent was lost to NEPL. South Hetton won a third consecutive title in 2001. With so many capable of rising to the occasion they always had enough in hand to maintain control. They kept Hylton at arm’s length in 2000 and next year held off Silksworth’s challenge in a last-day title decider. Steel was still dominant but with a new, free-scoring opener, Dean Burrows, whose career underwent a curious transformation. Burrows burst onto the scene at Hartlepool in 1984 with a string of impressive performances. The six-feet-three-inch tall fast bowler, though not so fast as to prevent Des Playfor standing up and making stumpings, was whisked into Gloucestershire’s side alongside Paul Romaines. Burrows made only two more appearances. He was engaged by home club Peterlee where he began to hit hundreds rather than stumps. Dean continued to do so at South Hetton where skipper John Pendlington topped D.Coast bowling in 2000. Pendlington made Horden’s side in 1987 in time to pick up three league medals. It might have been four in 1995 had he not been engaged by South Hetton after his batting flourished dramatically enough to raise thoughts of 1,000 DSL runs. Pendlington has not always used his batting to the full yet averages 48 over seven league seasons at South Hetton. Inspired by all-rounder Calvin Stephenson, Murton set the pace in 2002 until suffering their only defeat in July. By then Hylton were on an 11-match undefeated run, most successfully when batting second as Gary Hewitt, David Hanson and Joe Bittlestone made light of substantial targets. Hylton held off Peterlee, more reliant on the penetration of brothers Keith and Neil Hewson, to win a first title for 38 years.
Five years after being D.Co champions Leadgate sank to the bottom in 1989. Recovery began in 1994 when all-rounders Tony Halliday and David Nevin lifted the side to the upper reaches despite frequent changes in personnel. Leg-spinner Harry Hubber was engaged and Richard Hawthorne arrived from Bishop Auckland. Leadgate ended Tudhoe’s domination after an exciting duel in 1999. They gained outright lead by thrashing Tudhoe at the end of May but fell foul of June rain and Tudhoe assumed command. A spectacular run of 13 successive victories earned the championship. Hawthorne had success with the ball but the fact that there was no Leadgate bowler in the leading D.Co averages underlined their strength in depth.
Leadgate retained the title in 2000 with Pakistani all-rounder Bilal Rana as pro. Slow left-arm Rana was pro for three seasons at both Chester-le-Street and Felling, topping DSL batting three times and bowling once. Rana was not short on confidence. Interviewed while steering Felling to the title in 1997 he could not understand why he had not yet played Test cricket and said ‘Cestrians’ did not win a title because “they did not have many good players”. That must have been music to the ears of players of the calibre of Shaun Stokoe, Steven Peel, Ian Plender, John Tindale and Mark Blunt, particularly as the latter two moved to Felling with Rana. That said, Rana’s league figures in the last nine years (6,634 runs at 56 and 632 wickets) place him among the most successful recent pros. Leadgate’s unhappy knack of offending the establishment muffled elation at winning successive titles. Hearing N & TSL was to extend Leadgate applied for admission. League Cricket Conference requirements place clubs in a cleft stick when changing leagues. They must resign from their league in mid-season before applying to join another. Leadgate failed to resign so D.Co threw the rule book at them. They were fined £50 and both 1st and 2nd XI were kicked out of the League Cup and handed a 100-point penalty for season 2001. Leadgate’s depth and determination is clear from the fact that, even with a further 20-point deduction for playing an ineligible player, they were ‘just’ 79 points behind champions Kimblesworth. Ex-Consett youngsters Gary Hunter and Stuart Graham, sons of fine Consett players, headed D.Co batting and bowling respectively. Graham’s wickets were taken at the lowest cost in D.Co for a very long time. Leadgate’s troubles were compensated by winning N & TSL Division B1 by the proverbial mile to gain promotion to A1 in their first season. South African Sean Ackermann was in irresistible form, topping B1 batting and bowling. Ackermann, an accomplished bat who bowls seam-up and orthodox left-arm, had impressed earlier at Annfield Plain. In three seasons as pro he has scored 2,387 runs (av 79) and taken 194 wickets at 8.9 apiece.
Players’ increasing ‘mobility’, and an inevitable, accompanying wink-wink-nod-nod curiosity, is in sharp focus today. It is a concern that haunts local cricket and could spell the end of many a club if followed to an obvious conclusion. The problem was unwittingly illustrated by Kimblesworth secretary Malcolm Bartle immediately after his club’s convincing triumph in 2001. “We have spoken to most of the players and they’ve intimated they want to return next summer. If we can keep everyone together we will be confident of again challenging for honours.” As events turned out Kimblesworth had to be satisfied as runners-up for all the fine form of their batsmen and leading wicket-takers Farukh Iqbal and Masood Mirza. Australian Michael Fishwick, free-scoring right-hander who twice made 1,000 TSL runs at Whickham, was in his fourth year as pro. Leading scorers Mirza and Andrew Kelly were pros at previous clubs and prolific Steven Meek was at his seventh club in the last seven years. Long gone the days when Kimblesworth nurtured schoolboys like Bobby Davison and Jimmy Kelly. Kimblesworth and Evenwood fought a fascinating race. The leadership changed frequently and Evenwood held the upper hand with two to play. The first was lost. It set the scene for last day heroics by local lad John Maughan who hit an undefeated century as Evenwood knocked off 236 at Tudhoe. Mike Amos excused their boisterous merriment in ‘The Swan’ because they “celebrated what sport is about”. Of twenty-three who made appearances 19 had progressed from the juniors. They included Billy Teesdale, Neil Teesdale and Jonathon Gill, sons of Billy and Alf Teesdale and Rodney Gill who each played in the Evenwood title sides of 1977 and 1979, together with Kevin and Paul Watson, nephews of Denis Waistell, a founder member of the 1965 reformed club. Local lore has it that Denis’s late dogs, both called Rex and infallible retrievers of cricket balls, are more famous than Denis. Evenwood’s success is a timely reminder that a club’s most wholesome rewards come from within.
An outbreak of foot and mouth in 2001 was a national disaster and heart-breaking for rural areas whose clubs felt the side-effects. D.Co had the minor inconvenience of a two-week delayed start but Darlington & District was severely affected by enforced restrictions. Half-a-dozen Durham clubs and several in North Yorkshire had their season obliterated. Younger players were lost to NYSD and a number of rural clubs folded The history of minor leagues like Darlington & District and North East Durham has not received due credit. As their clubs constitute a quarter of those affiliated to Durham Cricket Association they are integral to the local scene. They have been temporary havens for senior clubs fallen on hard times enabling them recover and strike out on more optimistic futures. Willington is a current, prime model of rejuvenation. The leagues are well organised by silent men who devote a lifetime ensuring cricket flows in beck and rill as well as mainstream. Their labours were recognised in 2002 when Norman Sturman won The Northern Echo Local Heroes Award sponsored by npower. That Sturman should dedicate 50 years to Haughton as player, administrator and fund-raiser and enjoy personal fulfilment at the same time is laudable. Yet the profound, immeasurable worth of Norman and his like lies with the golden key they offer to others to open the door to a lily white brotherhood fleeting time on a cricket field.