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It was listed as "Item 7: Other Business" in the minutes of the committee meeting of the Durham County Cricket Club on Monday, 5th December 1988. The minute reads: "The chairman outlined the discussion which had been held on an informal basis with a group which was interested in the idea of Durham County forming a first-class side."

On 6th December, 1990, the news came through that Durham had indeed been granted first-class status. On 14th April, 1992, Durham appeared for the first time as a first-class county. Championship cricket arrived at the Riverside Stadium in Chester-le-Street on May 18th, 1995, and on 20th May, 1999, the first one-day international was hosted on the ground with Pakistan playing Scotland in a World Cup match. There was a sell-out 15,000 crowd when England appeared on the ground for the first time to play the West Indies in a one-day international on 15th July, 2000.

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These dates in the development of cricket in Durham will pale into insignificance, however, when the calendar ticks over to 5th June, 2003. On that day, the Riverside will become the first new Test ground in England for a hundred years when Zimbabwe will provide the opposition.

This will be a momentous occasion in the short history of Durham County Cricket Club because, according to chief executive David Harker, it really raises the club’s status within the game. "We joined the first-class scene in 1992 and to go from being new members to becoming a Test venue in 2003 represents great progress. It demonstrates to the game that is was very worthwhile to bring Durham on board."

Just as the elevation to first-class status was not only an honour for Durham but also a boost to the entire north-eastern region, so too the granting of Test status to the ground in Chester-le-Street represents a triumph on a regional basis.

"In terms of the north-east, it is one of the few examples of international sport that we have in the region. We have Newcastle United in the Champions League football, but we’ve actually lost some international events in athletics and golf. So if you look at the gap between Leeds and Edinburgh there is very little in terms of real international sport.

"So this is very good for the image and profile of the whole north-east region. It’s particularly important to us when we’re looking for regional support to further develop the ground and establish the Riverside as a top-class international venue."

Durham have taken on three major developments to the ground. None of them have reached the contractual stage yet, but they are confidently expected to move ahead during the course of the winter and to be well on the way if not complete by the time of the Test.

They are joining forces with the district council to develop an indoor cricket school, going into partnership with a private operator to establish a health and fitness centre, and they are looking to put in a 2,000 seater stand which, if not covered immediately, will have the potential to be covered in future years.

That will add to the already impressive facilities that are enhanced whenever there is an international match by the provision of temporary seating. The capacity crowd that were there for the England-West Indies match was increased to 17,200 when England played India in last season’s NatWest Series match.

Unfortunately the weather interfered with that contest and it was rained off when there was every possibility of an exciting finish. With the previous year’s international being washed out as well, there was more evidence for those who regard the north-east as always being cold and wet. However, as David Harker points out, the region enjoys a drier climate than many others where Test cricket is played in England.

"We’re in the shadow of the Pennines, and therefore you’ll find the statistics would say we’re actually drier than several other parts of the country notably, of course, Old Trafford. So, although we cannot give any guarantees on the weather, we’ve no reason to expect that it will be very much different from elsewhere."

In the original application for first-class status, Durham addressed the question of climate, anticipating there might be some who regarded anything north of St. John’s Wood as being the frozen north. "The Riverside is a relatively sheltered site with no more rain than Reading (which is on a similar longitude some 250 miles to the south) and more calm days than Bristol." The weather, however, is all a matter of luck - just as it is anywhere in the British Isles.

A little bit of luck with the weather is all the groundsman needs to ensure that the pitch for the Test is perfect. David Measor regards the preparation of a Test wicket the highest honour he can achieve in the game, after attracting much favourable attention for his efforts with the one-day international pitches.

With the demand for tickets as it is, a top-class playing surface is essential. The match needs to go the distance. The public have been great supporters of the one-day international matches at the Riverside, and that support is being translated into ticket sales for the Test. What is particularly pleasing for the Durham authorities is that sales are not just being made for one day. People are obviously intent on making an expedition to the north-east and are booking for two and three days at a time.

June 5th to 9th will represent a great festival of cricket in the region. Durham chairman Bill Midgley is looking forward to it immensely. "Test match cricket in the north-east of England is good for sport and for the prestige of the region. 2003 is only a start and we hope to see cricket played at the highest levels at the Riverside in succeeding years.

"This depends upon the support of the people of the north-east who have turned out in large numbers in the past and I trust will show up again with similar levels of support and encouragement of English cricket."

Mick Waterson, chief executive of Chester-le-Street District Council, said: "Playing host to a Test match is a feather in the cap of, not only Chester-le-Street, but the entire region. Apart from the entertainment, this event will stimulate the local economy to benefit the local community. It does bode well for the future of cricket in the region, especially if viewed alongside plans to develop indoor cricket facilities at the Riverside."

With the support of the community and the enterprise of Durham County Cricket Club, there is a whole new sense of excitement about cricket in the north-east - the like of which has only been seen by the elevation of Durham to first-class status. June 5th should be a date that every follower of the game will want to write in the diary now. It is guaranteed to be a great occasion.

The countdown to the north-east's first ever Test match has begun, 5th - 9th June, 2003. Tickets are on general sale now priced at £25 for adults for the first four days. Under 16s can purchase tickets for the first three days for £10 and £5 for the Sunday. Be part of history. Call 0191 387 5151 or buy online.

Ralph Dellor, CricInfo


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