The Ashes: England vs Australia 4th Test a 'dream come true' for Durham

Although it has now played hosts to four Tests in all, including two against the West Indies, to be part of Ashes history is a major milestone for Durham.

Updated: August 08, 2013 21:19 IST
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Chester-le-Street: When the toss for the fourth Ashes Test between England and Australia at Chester-le-Street takes place on Friday, it will represent the culmination of a dream decades in the making.

Northeast side Durham, based at Chester-le-Street, only became a first-class county in 1992, with the ground, in the shadow of the 14th century Lumley Castle, making its senior debut three years later.

Yet by 1999, the picturesque ground on the banks of the River Wear was staging World Cup matches and in 2003 Chester-le-Street became England's first new Test venue since 1902 with the visit of Zimbabwe.

Although it has now played hosts to four Tests in all, including two against the West Indies, to be part of Ashes history is a major milestone for Durham.

"All the superlatives have been stated. It's fantastic, not just for all those connected with the club now but for all those involved in helping it gain first-class status," Durham director Bob Jackson told AFP on Thursday.

"It was always a dream to have Test-match status and, although we've had Tests here before, the dream has really come true with an Ashes match."

Asked if he ever thought that Australia would play a Test at the ground, Jackson replied: "I did honestly. I always thought the people of the northeast would support international cricket."

Before gaining first-class status, Durham-born players had to leave the county if they wanted to make a career for themselves in the game.

Among those leaving the county were future England batsmen Colin Milburn and Peter Willey, who both joined Northamptonshire in the English Midlands.

However, Durham maintained a high standard of club cricket, aided by a succession of high-profile overseas players in the local leagues, including a young Wasim Akram of Pakistan at Milburn's home club of Burnopfield, near Newcastle-upon-Tyne, before he joined Lancashire.

And since becoming England's 18th first-class side, Durham have twice won the County Championship (in 2008 and 2009) and also produced several England players, notably fast bowler Stephen Harmison and batsman Paul Collingwood, confirming the area's reputation as a hotbed of sporting talent.

"The two achievements, the success of the team was always a goal but we also wanted to build a conveyor belt of talent for England," Jackson explained.

But there can be worrying financial implications for clubs staging England matches, as the cost of getting the ground up to scratch may not be met by the income from staging Tests.

In 2011, Durham announced losses of £1.5 million ($2.3 million), with the planned construction of a new conference centre and hotel only possible with around of £5 million of donations from wealthy individuals.

Durham have also withdrawn from hosting an England one-day game against India next year over fears they would take a financial hit.

"Durham have spent a fortune and one of the reasons you do that is to attract the top matches," said Jackson.

England go into Friday's clash having already retained the Ashes after a rain-affected third Test draw at Manchester's Old Trafford left them 2-0 up with two to play in the five-match series.

What would top things off nicely for local cricket fans is if in-form Durham seamer Graham Onions, included in England's 12-man squad, was given the chance to revive his Test career on his home ground.

"That would be the icing on the cake," said Jackson. "I'm sure the England selectors are thinking hard about Graham, especially given the form he's in."

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