Chapter Twenty-three……….1990-1999 The darling buds of May

The 1990s began with the Gulf War, were punctuated by the wasteful death of Diana, Princess of Wales, and ended with the tragedy of Kosovo.   Other than a disturbing bomb explosion in the Metro Centre events in the north-east radiated rather more optimism.   Durham applied for First-class status, Jonathan Edwards shattered the world triple-jump record, Nissan built its millionth car and National Lottery balls bounced a fortune into a few bank accounts.   The nation finally accepted that ‘Geordie’ had doffed his cloth-cap image.   Newcastle was officially declared a party city, Durham Cathedral a world heritage site and the Angel of the North earned critical acclaim.   A transformation replete with  the sublime Millennium Bridge, a tilting, curving, arched footbridge dispelling for ever the notion that Gateshead was a dirty lane leading to Newcastle.

A portent of change in club cricket, too.   Indeed a sense of déjà vu with George Alberts, manager of D.Co sponsors Millburngate Shopping Centre, the latest to advocate a pyramid system.   Alberts proposed two structures : one for Tyneside & Northumberland, the other for Durham & North Yorkshire.   The latter’s Division One would comprise the top five in DSL and NYSD plus D.Co’s top four.   The next three in those leagues and D.Coast’s top two would form Division Two, and so on to make four divisions.   Surprisingly, in light of his league’s proposed exclusion from the elite, D.Coast chairman John Lowery was reported to favour the scheme.   “If the county succeed [in their application for First-class cricket] the whole league structure will have to be overhauled.”   Northumberland County League chairman, Alan McKenna, agreed.   A voice from NYSD knocked the idea of a pyramid league system for six in characteristic style.   “It won’t strengthen cricket in the area,” boomed Riddell.   “The game is all about history.   Cricket is parochial and the game is ninety-nine per cent amateur.   Loyalty is a priority.   A pyramid can only lead to movement of players and illegal payments.   Shamateurism would be rife.   There will be no stability.   We’ll end up like soccer, supporting a side half of whom you hated last year.”[1]   Riddell need not have worried.   Alberts’ plan was lost in the long grass but notion of an elite league still hung in the air.

At Lord’s, meantime, Don Robson and the county hierarchy sipped champagne to celebrate Durham’s entry into First-class cricket.   All possibility of a combined Durham & Northumberland joining the elite had vanished in 1985.   Frustrated, yet encouraged by the success at other counties of lads like Michael Roseberry, Durham resolved to go it alone.   Determination and astute planning won the day.   A solid base was strengthened by bonding Durham Cricket Association and Durham Schools’ Cricket Association with Durham CCC.   Sadly, Jack Iley would not live to see his beloved county compete at the top.   Durham secretary for 45 years, and only the third since 1894, Jack sweated and fretted for club and county for 60 years.   Musing on the past, Keith Andrew surely had Don Robson in mind when he spoke of “people in Durham with dreams and pride in their heritage; people who have a social conscience with a will and vision to do something about it.”[2]   No doubt Don believed he was simply upholding the beliefs of countless Durham social consciences down the years.   Andrew analysed the strengths and weaknesses of the recreational game : was content that more youngsters were taking up the game under better tuition; was satisfied with the comprehensive range and variety of cricket in a competitive structure.   Junior participation in Durham was increasing when, nationally, numbers were down 3%.   On the debit side Andrew was concerned about the minimal amount of cricket in schools, the lack of opportunity for women, and for clubs facing an uncertain future owing to growing economic pressures.

Those pressures increased throughout the Nineties and when they collided with other developmental forces the decade ended in ferment.   NWD folded along with half-a-dozen clubs.   Only three-quarters of senior clubs that began the summer of 1990 were in the same league at the Millennium.   In fact only three-quarters were in a senior league.   The amount of senior league cricket decreased by a fifth so now it is exceptional to score 1,000 runs in a league season and nigh on impossible to take 100 wickets.   There was radical change when it was known four Northumberland sides would form part of a revolutionary North East Premier League.   Left with only eight clubs, Northumberland County League held talks with TSL and the two leagues amalgamated.   The wind of change whistled into other corners.   In an individualistic age ex-players were less willing to take up umpiring or administration.   Youngsters wanted to spend Saturday night ‘on the town’ so hours of play were altered to enable matches finish earlier.   Re-living a game over a pint became an increasingly outmoded pleasure, particularly in light of the drink-driving problem.

A craving for la dolce vita persuaded some to join a vicious circle that brought, indeed still brings, economic difficulties.   Thirsty for success, clubs over-reach themselves to find means to grease a player’s palms for his services.   A folly magnified by players spending half the winter playing abroad while their clubs struggle to balance the books.   Much ‘unspoken’ evidence confirms Riddell’s fear of ‘shamateurism’.   Players are no longer secretive about it.   How else could D.Coast suspend a player sine die for an alleged illegal cash offer to a player?   Now the only surprise is the amounts involved.   It is said one club recently found means to pay for a player’s Jamaican honeymoon.   Another, offered a chance to join a Premier League club, said : “I will for £3,000.  I already get £2,500 from my club.”   His club, incidentally, an ex-Colliery side.   How changed the welfare ideal.

For entirely different reasons, Castle Eden’s financial fortunes fluctuated so alarmingly they faced economic ruin.   It began when the local council condemned their pavilion.   Castle Eden applied for, and were awarded, a National Lottery Sports Grant of £221,000.   They raised a further £25,000, hired architect and contractor and were justifiably proud of a splendid, new clubhouse.   As the building was used as a centre for the whole community Castle Eden believed the work was zero-VAT rated.   On Christmas Eve 1999 the club received a VAT demand for £43,000 from Customs & Excise.   So began chairman Hughie Teasdale’s nightmare.   Hughie, 50 years a member, signed the contract on behalf of the club.   If the bill was not paid he would forfeit his home in lieu.   The Northern Echo publicised his plight.   Darlington accountant Barry Brain considered, and solved, the problem.   He negotiated ‘a special method’ with Customs & Excise to recover £48,000.   Hughie could sleep nights in peace.

North West Durham League was a casualty of the times.   In 1949, long before closure of pit and ironworks, a North-East Development Area Plan foresaw no alternative to large-scale migration from north-west Durham.   The area was over-populated in relation to its resources; its landscape, much of it charming, unlikely to attract other industry.    NWD clubs migrated, too.   Half of ten members, and four replacements, were in other leagues by 1975.   Kimblesworth clinched a fourth successive title in 1991, moved to D.Co, signed Dennison Thomas (qv) and were champions in 1994.   Meanwhile NWD faded fast.   Fourteen clubs in 1987 dwindled to ten in 1992 and eventually NWD ceased to be a viable organisation.   Three were left at its death in 1994.   Don Robson feared some might go to the wall so, before the burial, discussions were held with a view to amalgamating NWD and TSL into two divisions with promotion and relegation.   A motion, agreed in principle, failed to win the backing of TSL clubs.    The Executive saw it as a vote of no confidence and resigned en bloc.   Robson was made Life Member; close colleague Bob Jackson, secretary since 1971, was elected President.   Each considerably enhanced TSL’s standing and organisation.   Each continued their significant work with Durham CCC.

The drive of Robson and Jackson was reflected each Saturday in TSL.   Matches sparkled.   Batsmen ascendant.   None more than S.R.Russell.   Synthonia signed the 21-year-old West Australian, coached by Bob Massie, in 1989.   Next year he hit 1,048 league runs and 4 hundreds.   Sacriston engaged Russell in 1992.   A shared title next year led to outright success in 1994.   Steve topped TSL batting with over 1,000 runs all three years.   He hammered another 13 hundreds including, unique in Durham, two double hundreds in a season in 1992.   The first (15 sixes, 19 fours) was part of a TSL record total of 406 for 9; the second took just 95 balls.   Incredible if Carr could hit further than Russell.   “Park your car half-a-mile from the ground, wear body armour and, if you’re an opposition bowler, don’t bother turning up,” wrote George Caulkin.[3]   Advice too late for Steve Lishman as Russell hit him for 36 off one over in 1992.   At six-feet-seven Russell’s pace and lift could be a handful though he was often content to contain after his phenomenal hitting.   Nor were Sacriston a one-man team.   David Metcalfe had thumped the ball, and anything else in his way, ever since belting 216 not out for the Juniors in 1980 and openers Phil Shield and Marc Hopkinson ensured a busy start.

PRO-FILE  (No. 27)


(b. St. Andrews, Grenada, 3 March 1968)

At South Moor (1991-93) and Kimblesworth (1994-98).   Hit 134 on debut on opening day of 1991 while brother Wesley (Blaydon’s pro) was hammering 215*.   The taller Dennison adjusted to an ‘English’ length and got a lot of movement.   In 1993 Dennison became the only player in TSL history to achieve the league ‘double’ of 1,000 runs and 100 wkts.   At Kimblesworth topped NWD batting in 1996, NWD bowling in 1997.   Took 107 league wkts in 1994, only 22 runs short of a NWD league ‘double’.   First-class cricket for Windward Islands.

League record :    168 inns     23 not     6,352 runs     (av 43.8)

703 wkts for 8,950 runs     (av 12.7)

Blaydon were in the top three eight times in the Nineties and champions in 1995 and 1997-98.   They were led by elegant, left-hander Somerville who compiled runs relentlessly as a supermarket cash till.   Ian registered his 20,000th for the club in July 2002.   Assorted run-machines followed : belligerent ‘Biffa’ Marshall, exciting all-rounder Stephen Humble, classy stroke-maker Mark Drake.   Clyde Butts completed a free-scoring quintet.   Butts scored 9,875 and took 917 wickets in seven years.   Tightened work permit regulations prevented his return and a notable club ‘double’.   All but Butts came through the ranks.   A fifth fast bowler Colin Campbell, earned a county contract.   Michael Urwin and Ian Reid gathered wickets with the new ball before off-spinners Butts and Johnny Walker strangled the game.

Annfield Plain almost folded at the end of 1992 yet were champions in 1996 and 1999.   Sweeping changes in personnel prompted TSL to conduct a fruitless search into club affairs.   Plain’s      revival began when Donald Brown was engaged in 1995, his third spell at the club where he began.   Totally illogical, of course, but Donald’s fierce determination seems greater reason for his six league medals at three TSL clubs than his 1,200 wickets and 8,000 runs.   He gained a seventh at Leadgate in 1981.   Shoulder damage curbed his pace yet he twice topped TSL bowling after reaching 35.   Brown was the perfect revivalist, his drive exhorted a side with good all-rounders Phil Mosey, Gary Steadman and Tony Halliday.  Bruce Armstrong, when available, added class to the batting.   Neil Killeen burst on the scene with 8 for 13, hitting the stumps each time.   Though batsmen dominated the county looked to TSL for its future bowlers.   They found Killeen, Campbell, Melvyn Betts, Ian Hunter, Ian Jones and all-rounder Paul Collingwood.   Small wonder Paul’s bowling was a major factor in his establishment as an England One-Day International.   He had Brown and Wilkinson as models when he made the 1st XI in time for Shotley’s outright title and share in 1992-93.   Paul took many wickets but his powerful stroke-play impressed more in his brief time at The Spa.   Shotley had other fine batsmen in left-handed openers Charlie Stephenson and Neil Burdon and wicket-keeper Tommy Peel.   Collingwood’s elder brother Peter, a forceful, attractive stroke-maker, recently reached 5,000 league runs (av 47).

Sunday Sun inadvertently omitted North Durham from their printed league table on 18 August 1990.   A prophetic oversight.   Their history ended four matches later.   North Durham are the only 1891 County League founder member to perish.   It says much about strength and tradition, more about perpetuating the establishment.   North Durham were also founder members of DSL and TSL and twice won the latter.   They were a major force, particularly when Lord Northbourne was patron, and built a magnificent pavilion in 1898.   The ghosts of Dr Abraham and Bill Coverdale are now homeless.

The unthinkable happened at Ashbrooke in 1988.   Sunderland, “debts running into thousands”, were bottom of DSL for the first time.   They hovered near the bottom for the next seven years despite a mass of runs from their pros.   Four Sunderland batsmen set a new DSL record aggregate in 1987-96 yet their best placing was sixth.   Current holder Philo Wallace had a flashy, hit-or-miss start to his debut season until he realised “the secret of getting runs in DSL is patience.”   The Barbadian hit 5,106 in four seasons (av 64).   Wallace was one of over thirty Test or future Test players engaged in the 1990s.   It is a measure of Durham’s advance and shows how much overseas pros enjoy playing in the county.    They included emerging Michael Bevan and Damien Martyn, controversial Ajay Jadeja and Ata-ur Rehman, swashbuckling Ridley Jacobs and fellow West Indian quickies Tony Gray, Nixon McLean and Patterson Thompson.   Thompson was met at the airport by Whitburn wag Wilf Barker.   Wilf offered to show him the village ground before driving him to his lodgings – took him to Durham’s Riverside ground instead.   “Back home we play Test Matches on grounds like this, man!” phewed flabbergasted Thompson.   When Whitburn engaged Australian Keith Burdett in 1999 he immediately etched his name in the record books as the first in Durham to score four successive league hundreds.

Burnmoor or Horden, often both, were in contention for the DSL title in all but three of the last 15 seasons.   Burnmoor won it in 1990, 1996 and 1999.   In 1990 R.B.Richardson stroked another 1,000 league runs, Joe Bittlestone was in prime form and openers Gary Brown and Bill Johnson raised seven century partnerships and eight over 50.   South African pro Andrew Hall was major reason for the other two championships.   Substantial contributions from Brown, Michael Richardson and Graeme Weeks ensured Burnmoor’s batting rarely failed.   Ian Conn continued to increase his haul of wickets, many snapped up by leading DSL wicket-keeper Graham Sherburn.   If anno Domini has claimed a bit of pace Ian still has admirable control and passed 1,200 in the league in 2002.   Horden’s successes in 1991, 1993 and 1995 were firmly based on a settled side and cohesive teamwork in support of a high-quality pro.   They retained the nucleus of the side nurtured by Parry plus Paul Watson and Gareth Smith.   Parry proved irreplaceable.   Champions in four of his last seven seasons, Horden lost more league matches in the three seasons after his departure than in the previous seven.   They found increasingly difficult to bowl sides out even though spinner Nadeem Khan, their new pro, performed extremely well.   He would do so with telling effect after the Millennium.

Eppleton were champions in 1994 with future West Indies off-spinner Nehemiah Perry as pro.   Perry was dominant but any club would miss Jimmy Adams’ phenomenal consistency.   His experience, alertness and shrewdness of thought were of enormous benefit to the development of Michael Barnes, Ashley Thorpe, Tony Birbeck and his brother Shaun who twice scored 1,000 DSL runs.   Eppleton gathered more points in the 1990s than any DSL club yet won only one title.   It could be argued that, over the decade, they lacked the consistently penetrative bowler other champions possessed.   Conn rarely failed to take 40 a season, Parry always exceeded 50.   Slow left-arm Glen Riddle, flat arm-darts nagging at leg-stump, enjoyed a couple of successful seasons while Adams played only half the decade and in two seasons kept wicket.   Glen Froud came nearest.   Originally seam-up, a back injury forced him to turn to spin.   Glen was disappointed to fall two short of 100 league wickets in the title season.   Since Perry took 83 that year it adds weight to the point about penetration.

Four batsmen scored a hundred in a match for the first time when Philadelphia visited Boldon in 1991.   Needless to say Greensword was one.   Next year rangy fast-medium Barbadian, Vic Walcott, helped South Shields to an eighth championship.   Walcott was the twenty-second, and last to date, to take 100 DSL wickets.   Vic’s DSL career came to a halt after topping the league bowling in 1996 with his 415th league victim.   Walcott landed in 1997 to be told that recent strict requirements disqualified him from a work permit.   Furthermore, the authorities issued a deadline for his departure.   A title was just reward for stalwarts John Dunn and Philip Stonehouse, Westoe’s fourth and fifth highest scorers.   Dedicated Stonehouse travelled from Glasgow for league matches before business took him from the area in 2001.   Philip, a painstaking batsman who drove powerfully through mid-on, was first amateur to score 1,000 DSL runs for Shields.

DSL extended to 15 clubs in 1997 to accommodate newly-formed Durham Cricket Academy.   Cricket Executive Geoff Cook, ex-Northants and England, captained the side to enable him guide his young charges on the field.   They included Michael Gough, Ian Hunter, Marc Symington, Andrew and Gary Pratt, all destined for First-class cricket.   The Academy were second then champions in 1998 with another three future county players Graeme Bridge, Nick Hatch and Mark Davies.   Curiously, of three defeats, the county’s rising cream were soundly thrashed by Wearmouth in their final senior season.

Three Durham clubs won NYSD.   Hartlepool, with a fairly settled side and clutch of top pros, were disappointed not to be a fourth.   They came within a whisker in 1997 in a rain-bedevilled tussle with Normanby Hall.   The two matched each other win for win, never separated by more than ten points, until Hartlepool lost at Guisborough at the end of August.   They finished level but Normanby won more matches so were champions.   Play-offs apart it was the eighth  tied NYSD championship decided on matches won or superior runs-per-wicket and the fifth by a  Hartlepool side.   Class act Graham Shaw passed 1,000 league runs three times and hit 12 hundreds during a four-year engagement.   Shaw, most of his career at Yorkshire clubs, has most NYSD centuries after Lambert   Gary Tebbett, Jeff Lamb and all-rounder Andy Holland performed consistently throughout the decade and Des Playfor claimed some 250 victims behind the sticks.   Penetration was the missing ingredient, a theory reinforced when Holland, Hornby and Ian Jackson all hit form in 1997.   Michael Gough’s son broke into the 1st XI.   When Mike senior moved to Blackhall in 1996 it opened the way for a memorable confrontation.   After watching his son’s first two balls disappear for four, father mentally rubbed his hands and thought “son or not, I fancy a bit of that”.   A single brought them face to face.   Son bowled father first ball!

Darlington were handsome champions when unbeaten in the last 20 matches of 1990.   Despite a tentative start, a bout of malaria and being ordered home early by Pakistan, Masood Anwar snared 73 victims at 8 apiece.   Andy Fothergill demonstrated slick skills with stumpings off pacemen Hatch and Johnston as well as slow left-arm Anwar.   Batting was solidly based on Riddell, Gary Moody and sparkling David de Silva.   New kid on the block, 15-year-old Mark Stainsby, made a maiden league fifty in 1993.   Next year he reached 1,000 league runs with a remarkable 13 fifties.

Norton led in 1997 until losing to Stockton on 2 August, the 150th anniversary of their first meeting on Norton Green.   Norton displayed the original 1847 Minute Book, old scorebooks, cap and tie in nostalgic hues of cerise, cream and chocolate.   Lord Cowdrey was guest of honour at an after-match dinner.   Ben Usher’s fine century and Sairaj Bahatule’s all-round dominance capped a memorable day.   Bahatule, a beguiling leg-spinner, equalled Cairns’ record 123 league wickets and averaged 58 with the bat before India re-called him to play two Tests.   His predecessor, India Test batsman Sanjay Manjrekar, scored 3,319 majestic league runs (av 75) and 15 centuries in two seasons.   Norton’s blend of youth and experience tasted championship success in 1998 after a wait of 47 years.   It was a career highlight for Chris Thomas, who “came into the team like a whirlwind and has batted like a whirlwind ever since,”[4] and worthy reward for persevering pro Chris Mason.   Kenny Gresham came to the fore and Usher stamped his all-round presence sufficiently for Norton to engage him in 1999.

Bishop Auckland ended the decade in style only losing once to win a fifth title.   Elegant and powerful, Steve Chapman was only nine short of 1,000 league runs.   Chapman began at Crook, joined Bishop where he was pro in 1996-98 and 2000 either side of a season as amateur in the championship year.   Steve passed 1,000 runs in 2001-02 when pro at Hartlepool to reach 11,000 in NYSD in twelve seasons with 22 hundreds.   Andy Bowman and Chris Hewison, who had impressed with 1,000 league runs at Burnopfield, shared an unbroken opening stand of 263.   Corbellari, the internet import, was NYSD’s leading amateur bowler.   Pro Graeme Angus was top overall.   His pace added spikiness to the attack and he far exceeded his achievements as pro at Shotley Bridge.   Andrew Kelly exceeded anything he would ever do again, or anybody had done in Durham, by taking 10 wickets for 0 runs in 27 balls for Bishop Auckland Juniors on 23 June 1994.   All ten were clean bowled.   Kelly’s feat did not spark a famous career.   A few 1st XI matches, then to Tudhoe and Etherley where a little finger was shattered in seven places.   If dreams of fame dissolved, Andrew sleeps peacefully in the knowledge his figures can never be bettered at any level of cricket.

Improving standards in D.Coast and D.Co drew frequent comment.   Thrilling title races were a feature of the 1990s though the ideals of each league differed.   D.Coast barred overseas pros whereas D.Co was temporary home to some 50 from every cricket nation including Etherley left-hander Reuven Peires, first in D.Co from Sri Lanka.   They brought glamour and uninhibited ability to smash the ball far.   All but one D.Co record wicket partnership were set in the Nineties including an unbroken 314 by John Pollard and Paul Maughan for Evenwood in 1991, second-highest stand in Durham.   There were 57 centuries in 1994 alone.   Pollard, from Tobago, hit 20 hundreds in four seasons, Amir Akbar made 29 in seven, Peires 11 in two.   Shahid Anwar (qv) raised the record individual aggregate to 1,758 in 1994.   D.Coast was awash with runs, too.   Bill Quay’s small ground, home since 1866, was scene of their D.Coast record opening stand of 306 in 1989 and three years later when Peterlee scored 311 for 4 to pass the home side’s 310 for 2 declared.

BILL QUAY                                                                            PETERLEE

  1. Strange c Yorke, b Burrows…     23                         I. Grint    lbw Robinson……………………           18
  2. Tudor                not out………………………   147                         D. Burrows    c Basham, b Greaves……           42
  3. Haynes c Yorke, b Hall………..       9                                        D. Young    c and b Greaves……………..           16
  4. Gutteridge not out…………………   118                                        D. Nesbitt    c Tudor, b Robinson………           94

extras  13 TOTAL (2 wkts)………..   310                          W. McKenzie    not out…………………….           84

  1. Garrighan    not out    …………….                29

extras  28         TOTAL (4 wkts)……  311

Cutting and pulling from the first ball, Jeff Tudor was undefeated on 187 and 147 in the two matches.   Tudor and Michael Strange may resemble Laurel and Hardy in stature but are a murderous opening pair.   Murton openers Richard Lowes and Phil Coxall each made unbeaten hundreds twice in 1991 when adding over 200 in two successive matches.   Fred Napier and Graham Flaxen repeated that extraordinary feat for Houghton in 1993.   The target of 1,000 league runs in a season was reached increasingly after 1986 when Moody set the record and Norman Riddle (Eppleton CW) was first amateur to reach four figures.   Easington pro John Glendenen (qv) was first to do it in successive seasons.   Glendenen, a delight to watch, made batting look ridiculously easy at that level.

Followers of Crook and Esh Winning gnawed fingernails to the wick as Esh Winning shaded a fluctuating D.Co title race in 1990 and again in 1991 when Crook took revenge with victory over Esh in a dramatic last-day decider.   Needing 236, leaders Esh looked winners at 183 for 5 but their title hopes disappeared when aggressive Peter Maddison was struck in the face and retired hurt.   It was cruel on subtle Pakistan Test spinner Nadeem Ghauri.   Slow left-arm Nadeem tormented batsmen all season, took ‘5-for’ nineteen times, set a D.Co record of 134 wickets but was tamed that fateful day and ‘went’ for 1 for 103.   Crook won a twelfth D.Co title in 1992, six more than any other, in the first of Santosh Jedhe’s five seasons as pro.   Jedhe topped D.Co bowling but seven hundreds and 1,290 league runs in 1994 (av 67) confirm hard-hitting his stronger suit.

A first senior title brought rare joy to Sedgefield in 1993.   Purely coincidental, of course, but A.C.L.Blair was elected Sedgefield MP that year.   First established in 1849, Sedgefield declined in 1887 owing to lack of interest but re-formed in time to compete in the first two years of Durham Challenge Cup.   Announced intention to fence their field in 1893 followed by a lengthy press silence suggests they had ground problems, a theory confirmed perhaps when they openly thanked Hon Hamilton Russell for free use of Hardwick Park in 1900.   Sedgefield joined South-East Durham Combination in the 1920s and flitted between the Combination and Darlington & District until accepted by D.Co in 1983.

John Bryant recalls that the decision to apply was not taken lightly.   “A lot of people felt we would lose the village cricket feel, the cream teas and so on.”   It skewed Wellock’s decision to seek the quiet, sequestered life.   Tim knew a popular NYSD image of Darlington & District was a league where  players “step out in whitewashed wellies, dodge the cow pats on the way to the crease, and shovel up the droppings before taking guard”.   He judged it a minor inconvenience for the pleasure of playing in such a splendid setting.   Except that, after one season, he was back in a competitive league.   Opening day rain missed Sedgefield and they won their first match (Wellock 6-42).   He continued in like vein for three seasons while the club adjusted to a higher standard.   Ali Zia’s 3,000 runs in 1989-91 raised their sights but next year the good work seemed undone when Sedgefield were third bottom.   All was forgotten when they won fifteen of the first 17 matches in 1993.   Forgotten, too, the village cricket feel, buried under the Antipodean deeds of Richard Power and Paul Hodder, a Kiwi armed with a British passport.   David Craster and the Burnetts provided the runs, usually when most needed.

After a first D.Co title in 1988, Tudhoe were in the top three eight times in the 1990s.   Naz Ahmed took all ten wickets in successive seasons as prelude to championship wins in 1995-96 and 1998.   Pakistani all-rounder Umer Rashid, pro in those years, topped D.Co bowling in his first and last seasons.   He was succeeded by Stephen Ball who returned to his home club after gaining four medals elsewhere.   Ball was a regular at Tudhoe once the rain stopped in 1983.   Impressive form earned the left-hander a move to Philly in their 1985 title season and next year he enhanced his reputation with 976 league runs.   Stephen won a medal on return to Tudhoe, two more at Crook in 1991-92.   He was then engaged by Murton and has been pro ever since.   Ball is a value-for-money pro.   The precocious brilliance of 1986 has been overtaken by a level of consistency that tells of maturing days batting with Paul Burn.   No coincidence that Ball is undefeated in a quarter of league innings that have produced over 13,000 runs (av 44).   He earned over 750 wickets with persevering rather than penetrating bowling.

PRO-FILE  (No. 28)


(b. Multan, Pakistan, 5 July 1968)

Right-hand opener at Tudhoe (1988, 1990), Shildon Railway (1994-96), Leadgate (1997) and Crook (1998-2001).   First season curtailed when called into Pakistan squad v Australia and had played just six league matches in 1996 when called into the tour of England.   Dominant start to 1994 with 3 hundreds in first 4 league matches before setting D.Co individual record aggregate of 1,758 (av 92.5).   Hit 7 centuries, 10 fifties and dismissed only four times for less than 25.   Many valuable performances with the ball.   Given the length of his engagement we can respect his opinion that “the standard of D.Co has improved all the time since I first came over”.   One-Day International for Pakistan in 1996.

League record :    208 inns     26 not     9,874 runs     HS 179*     (av 54.2)     21 hundreds

Ball was joined in the 1st XI by free-scoring Robert Chismon and Gary Cummings.   Such is the lure today to move clubs they were at Tudhoe together in only four of Ball’s ten seasons in D.Co.   Their careers bear remarkable similarities.   Chismon made headlines after a first wicket partnership of 271 with Gary Ireland in 1986; Cummings caught the eye with 1,000 in all in 1988.   Each had three impressive seasons away from Tudhoe : Cummings at Esh Winning, Chismon at Crook.   Each had a season in  NYSD : Robert hitting two league hundreds, Gary less successful.   Cummings returned to dominance on return to Tudhoe in 1993 with 1,000 league runs and 1,421 next season.   Chismon rejoined Tudhoe in time for the 1995 title and the pair were re-united in celebration for the next two.   Both are now D.Co pros and, strange to say, each scored 819 league runs for their clubs in 2001.

Hetton Lyons have an enviable reputation for producing promising talent.   It is nothing new.   The club staged an Under-16 tournament in 1893, the earliest mention of competitive youth cricket in Durham.   They set up an Under-13s section in 1979.   They were champions in 1997-98 and in fact the 1997 side were North Regional champions and fifth in the national finals.   In 1997, too, the seniors won a second D.Co title when Sajjad Akbar (qv) was in scintillating form.   Hetton Lyons applied to DSL in 1979 and were accepted in 2000 three years after spending £160,000 improving their ground.   Lyons were runners-up, indeed would have been champions had they defeated leaders Horden on the last day.   Jamaican all-rounder Brian Murphy was in fine form but Ashley Day was the ace in the pack.   Day was previously pro at Easington where, to a degree, a slow wicket blunted his sharpness.   Of lithe physique, Day is a brilliant fielder and genuinely fast.   His twentieth over is as quick as his first and he puts the ball on the spot.   “Day is like a metronome,” says Allan Worthy.   “Like an Angus Fraser but quicker; like a Glenn McGrath but not as good.”   Day now tests his ability at the highest possible level with Chester-le-Street in the Premier League.

PRO-FILE  (No.  29)


(b. Middlesbrough, 20 Jun 1965)

Right-hand opener at Easington (1990-1) and Darlington (1998-2000).   Debut for Middlesbrough at 15, joined Marske in 1986-89, pro at both in 1993-95.   Scored 9 league hundreds at Easington, topping D.Coast batting in second season.   Hit 200* for Durham CCC in a Britannic Assurance Invitation match in 1991 against a Victoria attack including Test bowlers Merv Hughes, Simon O’Donnell and Damien Fleming.   At the time only E.W.Elliot (twice) had made a double hundred for Durham.   Spent 1992 with Durham CCC.   Scored 3 league hundreds as amateur at Darlington in 1996-97 and 13 when pro during next three years, 25 league hundreds in all for Durham clubs.

League record : pro at Easington & Darlington             109 inns   18 not   5,386 runs   (av 59.2)  as amateur at Darlington  46 inns     4 not   1,726 runs   (av 41.1)

South Hetton are the third to bask long in sunny Coast dominance in the last 25 years.   Seven championships in the last nine seasons include an extraordinary triumph in 1997 when they won just five of 24 matches – only two more than Seaham Park who were second from bottom.   South Hetton were elected to DSL in 2002, remarkable given their social circumstances.   They pay a peppercorn rent to the council for use of a ground that is open and vulnerable.   One year the wicket was twice sabotaged with weed-killer.   Bobby Steel’s fabrication firm manufactured sightscreens and covers that need constant repair after vandalism.   These old colliery grounds were showpieces in their heyday and tended with maternal care.   Now, with no qualified groundsmen, committee men like Billy Bennett spend hours of their retirement rolling the wicket to ensure it is playable.   While pitches are not dangerous they tend to be slow because they are under-prepared and have plenty of grass to prevent them breaking up.

Steel and Jim Smith turned South Hetton into a decent side but it lacked an extra ingredient to bind a side of locals into championship material.   Flame-haired Paul Burn was that missing ingredient.   Burn began at Sacriston and scored 895 league runs in his second season.   He returned as pro in 1988 between successful years at Philly and Burnmoor.   Former colleague Worthy would choose Burn to bat for his life.   He might need the last rites during Paul’s unconvincing starts.   Once in, Burn accrues with the inevitability of a Steve Waugh as 15,700 league runs (av 53) and 20 league hundreds testify.

PRO-FILE  (No. 30)


(b. Lahore, Pakistan  1 March 1961)

Brother of Amir Akbar (Etherley).   Two One-Day Internationals for Pakistan; Pakistan Cricketer of the Year in 1994 .   Highly-consistent all-rounder.   Exceeded 1,000 league runs each season at Hetton Lyons in 1995-98, a major reason for their rise from the lower reaches to champions in 1997.   Averaged a 50 every other innings and twice topped D.Co averages.   At Langley Park in 2001.  

League record :    107 inns     25 not     5,126 runs     HS 155*     (av 62.5)

If low grip and dominant bottom-hand limit his range of shots, Paul is master of those he elects to play.   He tailors an innings to the needs of the side though a burning desire to be not out (he is undefeated in 30% of his league innings) occasionally consumes that flexibility.   Many think Burn should have played First-class for Durham but at that level the county opted for the more secure technique of Glendenen.

Openers Worthy and Steel were chalk and cheese.   Worthy, a pale, slightly-built youth with little belief in his ability to hit the ball, was frequently criticised for slow scoring.   With Steel and Smith to provide aggression it was an affordable, proven team tactic.   Steel, then, is the grande fromage.   A burly man with Graham Gooch back-lift who relies on timing rather than force, Steel pierces the off in the grand manner, murders anything loose on leg.   Docile wickets or lesser sides offer scant challenge.   Stronger opposition tempers Steel’s hardness and there are few better sights than Bobby skipping down the wicket to loft for six.   He has 12,500 league runs (av 45) for South Hetton where he exceeded 700 in each of 15 seasons and hit 23 of twenty-seven league centuries.

With no overs restriction on first innings, D.Coast gained notoriety for wars of attrition.   You could smell smouldering friction in 1990.   Ryhope’s lordly rule roused antagonism and they were set stiff declaration challenges when chasing a seventh title in nine years.   Matters enflamed when, with no chance of the title, Silksworth batted 88 overs and left Ryhope 12 overs to get 241.   A conflagration engulfed leaders South Hetton in 1994.   Marsden skipper Colin Marshall arrived at South Hetton an hour before the start.   He inspected the wicket and returned to the pavilion.   Twenty minutes before play Marsden were four men short.   The umpires were using the home changing-room.   At 1.55 pm Steel asked the umps if he had power to enforce the toss.   Given their assent he knocked on Marsden’s door : “Colin, I’ve been on the field twice waiting for you to toss up.   Your lads are not here yet so I’m asking you to bat.”   A heated discussion terminated with Marshall’s terse “Right!”

Marshall opened the innings, fired shots all around, and Marsden reached 60 in ten overs.   Runs dried up on his exit.   Temperatures rose after an incoming batsman waited almost two minutes before ambling out carrying pads, thigh pad,  gloves and bat.   Emotional thermometers boiled as Tony Shields blocked for three hours and seven minutes for 4 runs, the most sterile innings in Durham history.   It was no longer a question of ‘needle’.   It was a stand-off at crazed corral with branding irons at two paces.   A dozen adjectives might describe the inertia but where the word to sum up such driven, blind obstinacy in the name of recreation?   Shields suggests ‘cussedness’.   “We were not happy with the situation from the start.   I’ve been around a bit and once the abuse started flying I dug in, determined not to get out.”   Probably more so when he was batting with his 14-year-old son.   Tony Shields and Bobby Steel have not spoken since.   They will soon have opportunity as Shields will captain Whitburn in 2003 and spin the coin with Steel in June.

At five-past-six Marsden declared on 136 for 6, got changed and went home.   They were charged with bringing the game into disrepute, deducted 15 points and fined £500.    Marshall was banned for six matches, Tony Shields quit the league, one umpire retired and the acrimony sickened Paul Burn of D.Coast.   While South Hetton fumed in the field eleven other Durham cricketers endured hell-fire at Edgbaston as Brian Lara blazed 501.

Silksworth delayed another declaration against Ryhope in 1992 though they were leaders at the time and trying to stave off defeat.   Silksworth clung to their lead to win a second successive title going 33 matches undefeated in the process.   Neil Mulvaney and David Hanson were prominent with the bat and medium-fast Keith Trotter headed D.Coast bowling both years.   Trotter’s ability is best judged by his success on Ryhope’s graveyard.   For consistency and longevity, Keith is pre-eminent in D.Coast and has topped the League averages in three of the last 11 seasons with over 800 wickets.   “He is a lovely, lovely bloke who always tries to do things with the ball : leg-cutters, off-cutters and big off-spinning slower balls.   His dismissals are genuine because he bowls straight.”[5]   Trotter still wheels away though years of constant pounding have left him hobbling.

There was cricket at Silksworth in 1875.   Silksworth Colliery entered Durham Challenge Cup in 1891 and were a founder member of D.Coast.   Success beckoned once Colin Orr stiffened the batting and James Teare added penetration with the ball.   Both were in the 1955 title side.   Teare took 10 for 71 and continued his exploits until Silksworth were next champions in 1976.   Ronnie Orton was then batting mainstay in a career lasting almost as long as Teare.   Colin Orr meanwhile turned his energies to administration.   An outspoken traditionalist, Orr was also alert to the needs of progress.   He valued pros’ contributions, condemned those who did not coach.   He was DSL secretary for 22 years until resigning when the committee refused to re-instate two ex-pros as amateurs.   Sadly, as chairman of Silksworth, Colin’s passion for the game landed him in trouble after their pitch was badly damaged by vandals before a junior match.   The umpires deemed the pitch unplayable.   Two days later the same umpires allowed a 3rd XI match to go ahead without incident, as did the following 1st XI match.   Silksworth were suspended for two months for not fulfilling the junior fixture.   Orr thought the decision outrageous.   “This was a club with over 70 years’ unbroken membership of the league and the light of cricket in Silksworth was going to be snuffed  out.”[6]   Colin sent a barrage of letters to cricket officials, local and national, and ended up in court.   He was subject to a restraining order and given a two-year conditional discharge.   Acting for D.Coast, Cecil Emmerson said : “All this stems from Mr Orr’s love of cricket and all things to do with the game, but he loves to view it through his own spectacles.”[7]   Another legal case that provides evidence of the deep-rooted feeling cricket generates when a club’s future is threatened.   Silksworth completed their league programme without winning a match.   The club gradually recovered and were runners-up to South Hetton in 2001.

Cricket featured at Houghton Annual Great Feast in 1834.   Modern Houghton were elected to D.Coast in 1989 and shock champions next year.   Graham Flaxen and pro Dale Froud led their strong batting line-up.   Murton beat Eppleton CW in a play-off to win D.Coast in 1986 with Keith Chapman an admirable foil to pro Donovan Malcolm.   Champions again in 1998, Murton were the ‘nearly men’ of the decade.   They gained more points than all but South Hetton and finished in the top three eight times.   Their free-scoring batsmen were reason for the consistency but, even allowing for the fact that few remained at the club above three seasons, might have earned more success with better bowling support for Chapman and Stephen Ball.   Chapman was fastest in D.Coast until the advent of Day.   Keith’s quick wit and dry sense of humour were necessary qualities given his workload at Murton where he claimed his 1,000th wicket in 1999.   Ball was first to top D.Coast batting and bowling in the same season in 1997.   Then 32, Stephen was another who believed standards in the north-east had declined during his career.

Ball’s opinion was at odds with the fact that Durham were producing highly-promising, young talent.   Yet many agreed with him.   In spring 1998 Newcastle Journal declared GAME’S FUTURE IN DOUBT.   Cricket correspondent Malcolm Pratt feared cricket’s grass roots were shrivelling.   Malcolm was not only apprehensive about the effect a proposed Premier League might have on leagues with a hundred-year history.   He perused obituary columns, noted South Moor had died.   Hebburn (previously Reyrolle) resigned from TSL at the end of 1996 and D.Coast had lost South Hylton, Vaux and Eppleton CW in the last ten years.   Pratt was not to know Wearmouth would resign from DSL before winter set in.   Together with the combined social predilections of a nation’s youth and some of their insular elders, the decline and fall of these clubs persuaded Pratt and a growing number of stalwarts to predict a future without many of today’s clubs and with others unable to support two elevens.   Cricket had had false obituaries before.   Lord MacLaurin was studying the evidence….

[1] qv in David Lamont’s Kick Back column, Sunday Sun, 30 Sept 1990.

[2] A Plan for Durham Cricket 1993-96

[3] Sunday Sun, 10 July 1994

[4] William Bielby : A History of Norton Cricket Club (1847-1997)

[5] Conversation with Allan Worthy, January 2002.

[6] The Daily Telegraph, 18 September 1998

[7] ibid.

Chapter 24

Chapter 22

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