On the Front Foot: Durham stoked by game's popularity in a football hotbed


It was a pleasure to be in Durham. There is a vibrancy and drive about the place that cannot be anything but impressive. Of course, enduring affection for home may distort the normally objective view of OTFF somewhat, but the recent story of cricket in the county is an inspiring one.

The ground, cut from wasteland barely 20 years ago, is maturing well. It does not possess the architectural flourishes of the Rose Bowl in Hampshire, the country's other new arena, but nor does it have the bizarre cubes that only the designer's mother could love and have blighted the redevelopments of its so-called northern rivals at Headingley and Old Trafford.

Durham was a sell-out yesterday (it needed to be) and the first tranche of tickets for next year's one-day international between England and Australia sold like stotty cakes. The real test for the ground as in international arena will be the first Test of the Ashes in 2013. By then it is hoped that permanent seating will be installed, enhancing the delightful view of Lumley Castle. There is more to Durham than the ground, of course.

Where Hampshire have barely troubled the England selectors (ever, let alone since they moved to their new HQ), Durham possess a countywide youth coaching programme designed to ensnare anyone with talent. It reaches into Northumberland and Cumbria, whence came Ben Stokes, who yesterday became the seventh player from the county to represent England this decade.

There are more in the offing. The league system in the area, propelled first and foremost by the admirable North Yorkshire and South Durham League, only assists in the cause. And Durham have won two county championships with a third a distinct possibility.

None of this has come easily and the club are operating in a parlous economic climate. They have prospered despite it not because of it. Traditionally, the north-east is a hotbed of football but cricket has earned an invaluable place.

Rank and file aiming high

England took two years to go from fifth in the Test rankings to first place. Their new ambition is to make a similar leap in the one-day table. Doubtless, it will take them some little time but their analyst Nathan Leamon will have told them it could happen sooner than they think. England languish in fifth place on 107 points but it is possible under the arcane system by which the table operates that they could be second by the end of October on 120.

It may not be feasible, however, since it would involve them winning all 10 of their one-day matches against India, five at home and five away.

New boy suddenly feels his age

Ben Stokes is the 222nd player and the 11th aged under 21 to have been capped by England in one-day internationals. At 20 years and 82 days when he appeared against Ireland last week (those who would deny Ireland official status might say his real debut was yesterday at 20 years, 91 days) he is the third youngest.

Stuart Broad was 15 days younger, Ben Hollioake was still only 19 when he appeared thrillingly against Australia in 1997. In international terms, of course, Stokes has had to wait until his dotage. In all, 236 players have appeared in ODIs at a younger age.

Another one bites Aussie dust

Australia might have won a Test match in Sri Lanka yesterday but the blood-letting at home continues. Jamie Cox became the fourth selector in weeks to quit, saying there was "a mood for change". He follows David Boon, who resigned to become an international match referee, Andrew Hilditch, the chairman and Greg Chappell, who were deposed in the wake of the Argus report into the state of the country's cricket.

That leaves Australia completely bereft of selectors for the moment. England, on the other hand, have no vacancies. No panel has remained as intact for so long as that inhabited by Geoff Miller, Ashley Giles, James Whitaker and Andy Flower.