A few years ago, I was involved in a campaign to bring Ashes cricket to the North East. I was working for One North East (ONE) at the time, promoting our region to the rest of the country and world under the ‘Passionate people. Passionate places’ banner. Durham County Cricket Club had decided to make a bid to host an Ashes Test in Chester-le-Street and asked for the support of ONE.
That support was enthusiastically given and we helped Clive Leach, David Harker, Gordon Hollins (now at the England and Wales Cricket Board) and team to co-ordinate a sustained and energetic campaign that on one hand harnessed the region’s passion for sport to garner public support, while on the other put together a strong business case to the ECB. The North East media played a big role in that project and all involved believed that the region was in with a great chance of securing an Ashes Test for the 2009 series.
History shows that Durham missed out. Instead, Cardiff was awarded its first Test match. There was much muttering at the time about the fairness of that decision – the oft spoken conclusion was that money had talked (as it usually does) and Wales had effectively ‘bought’ the right to stage an Ashes Test, regardless of the merits of its own bid. As it happens, Sophia Gardens proved to be an excellent host ground and of course a certain Paul Collingwood from Durham played a crucial role in securing the draw on the final day of that Test, which was nice to see. Meanwhile, in typical North East style, the team at DCCC had already picked themselves up, dusted themselves down and set their sights on the next opportunity, 2013.
It’s worth remembering that when that initial Ashes bid was made, Durham had been a first class county for less than 15 years and hadn’t won a single trophy at that level. There was still a feeling in certain places and among certain people that Durham was an upstart county that was getting a little above its station (though of course the national team was happy to accept a regular supply of outstanding cricketers from this part of the world).
That perception has now been well and truly put to bed. The trophies have arrived, starting with the Friends Provident one day triumph at Lord’s in 2007 and then consecutive county championships in the following two years (an achievement that I still believe only garnered grudging credit from many in the national media). Durham has continued to provide the national team with players and the Emirates Durham International Cricket Ground is a world class sporting venue. So, when it was announced that
Chester-le-Street would host an Ashes Test this year, no-one was really surprised and the news was widely welcomed.
We have all faced some pretty hostile bowling since that first bid from Durham. The economy has been bowled several googlies, a new Government has gone in to bat, and One North East and ‘Passionate people. Passionate places’ have been given out, with no DRS review available. At the same time, there has been a bit of a sticky wicket at DCCC, in financial terms
at least (of course, the club is by no means alone in facing that particular challenge).
But here we are, just hours away from witnessing one of the oldest and most compelling international sporting rivalries being played out on our home patch. The timing could not be sweeter. Just a couple of weeks after Lord Howell’s geographically incompetent comments, for five days (weather permitting) the Test will showcase one of this region’s gems in all of its glorious desolation.
When Durham submitted its first bid to host an Ashes test, ‘Passionate people. Passionate places’ was nicely established at the crease and in full flow, playing a variety of classy shots and delivering a big innings for North East England. The funding for that campaign is long gone, but thanks to an ongoing programme of great sporting and cultural events, and the people of this region, the passion that drove it is definitely still batting on and continuing to score at a good rate. Long may it stay not out.
By Chris Lines.