The Ashes: Durham's bespoke arena comes of age after quarter of a century


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The Independent Online

Nobody at that routine gathering 25 years ago can have imagined it would lead to this. But it was the start of everything, as the minutes of Durham County Cricket Club's meeting in December 1988 solemnly recorded.

"Any other business: The chairman outlined the discussions which had been held on an informal basis with a group which was interested in the idea of Durham forming a first-class side."

Four years later, the club were in the County Championship for the first time, in 2008 they won it for the first time, and on Friday they will stage an Ashes Test match on the lovely ground that they were virtually ordered to build as part of the deal.

David Harker, the club's chief executive who has been there since the start, firmly resisted the suggestion that it is the culmination of that fanciful chitchat on a winter's evening.

"I think words like 'culmination' are dangerous," he said. "This is a big step on our journey but we have to be prepared for the next step, whatever that is to be. We are constantly looking to develop in what has been a difficult economic climate."

The fourth Investec Test is undoubtedly an immense opportunity to showcase the Durham International Cricket Ground, formerly known as the Riverside. A modern stadium has a resplendent backdrop of rolling hills amid which stands Lumley Castle.

There have been four Tests at the Riverside in the last 10 years but this is the first in what might be called high summer against the season's main tourists. The first three days are sold out but there are tickets still available for Monday, which is less a comment on the state of the series than the state of the region.

"When the application was made to become a first-class county, part of the acceptance was the building of an international-class stadium," said Harker. "An international-class stadium needs international matches and we applied for and got those. We need to keep having them to sustain it."

The club has known hard times and had to hand back two such matches that it was due to stage. The brutal financial truth is that the people of the North-east would probably not be able to support two internationals a year.

But Durham County Council has pledged £2.6m of funding, which has been matched by the North East Local Enterprise Partnership. "The political leadership sees this club as an important asset to the region," Harker said.

The next immediate phase is to raise funds for a purpose-built academy, which is likely to cost up to £1m. But this is the week that the Durham ICG goes on the map.