Rallying call to region's cricket fans

Standfirst - Durham County Cricket Club's successful bid for Test Match status is a massive boost for the North East. Yet the region can only fully capitalise if North East cricket fans continue to show the maximum support for international cricket. MARK LANE reports

David Harker, Chief Executive of Durham County Cricket Club, has called for the public and private sectors and North East cricket fans to get behind the club in its bid to cement not only its own, but the region's place in the international sporting calendar.

With the euphoria of the England and Wales Cricket Board's decision to award Durham Test Match Ground status from 2003 having died down, David and his team are seeking the funding necessary to develop the ground's capacity and facilities to the highest possible levels.

Durham will be hosting their inaugural npower Test Match during 2003, subject to appropriate staging agreements and other related contractual matters being concluded between the ECB and all the international match venues.

With this region having failed in its audacious bid to bring the Ryder Cup to Slaley Hall, Gateshead International Stadium apparently uncertain about its future as an international athletics venue and the occasional major international football matches that have come to the region likely to disappear, it is imperative that the support Durham needs is given.

Televised international sport gives a tremendous amount of publicity to a region, youngsters are inspired by it and, perhaps most crucially, the passion of North East people for sport in general deserves a major regular international sporting event. Says David: "What we are saying to the regional agencies and potential private sector sponsors is that five-day Test Match coverage effectively brings ten of millions of pounds in free advertising for the region. In the absence of any event of this magnitude we must take this opportunity to deliver sustainable international sport to the region."

The contribution that staging international sporting events can make to promoting the region has been recognised by the regional development agency, One NorthEast, the organisation having welcomed Durham CCC as a partner in the region's "Here Now" campaign. The campaign was devised to promote the best image possible for the North East, both inside and outside the region.

Whilst he is genuinely passionate about bringing regular international cricket to the region, David also admits that the Cricket Club's long-term prosperity as a business is tied into how quickly it proves itself to be one of the best developed and best organised international grounds on the cricket circuit.

Clubs with Test Match grounds can expect up to five times as much income (and, of course, much higher costs) than those without so it's a case of the sooner the better as far as further development of the ground is concerned. The bulk of any money raised from funding would be put into extending the permanent capacity of the ground from 5,000 to 10,000.

Other planned developments for the ground include an education and media centre and an indoor school. It is hoped that the latter will secure funding from Sport England within the next few weeks. The education and media centre would provide facilities for the world's media, classroom provision for local schools and contribute to the increase in permanent seating.

Durham expects to stage its first Test Match in 2003 with Zimbabwe the likely opposition, probably in June. Although this wouldn't exactly generate the same interest as, say, England against Australia at the height of summer, David Harker is unconcerned. "Clearly we would love to host such a fixture in the future but if we have to start with what would be considered a much more modest fixture so be it. We want to get our foot in the Test Match door and would approach its promotion and delivery with the same intensity. We are the first new Test Match venue in England for over 100 years and we have to start somewhere.

"Once we've shown how successful we can be as a Test Match venue, the next challenge will be to try and secure more high profile matches. We will feel the job is complete when we have staged an England v Australia Ashes match, hopefully with an England side featuring a number of Durham players."

David's final words are aimed at you, the supporters: "We value the support of the North East cricket public but we must not take our position as an international venue for granted. We are in a competitive industry and our emergence as a test arena has ruffled feathers elsewhere. Other grounds will react by improving their arenas and marketing themselves to secure the best games. We can achieve our aims if the support and enthusiasm the region's public have shown for international cricket continues on the scale it has to date."

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