PAUL Collingwood helped launch the 27th Bunbury Under-15 Cricket Festival yesterday, welcoming the cream of young cricketing talent from all over England to the North East, writes Graeme Anderson.
It is the first time this century that the famous tournament has been held in the region and the Durham and former England skipper greeted the players, appropriately enough, at Collingwood College, Durham University to welcome the four teams from the North, Midlands, London & East and South & West, to Wearside.
The four teams will play against each other at the Racecourse Ground and Maiden Castle this week and Collingwood was there at the official start of the event to give every one of the youngsters their Bunbury caps.
The festival is renowned for nurturing the next generation of stars – Collingwood himself is a former Bunbury player, having played in 1991 with the likes of fellow emerging talents Marcus Trescothick and Graeme Swann – as well educating boys in the spirit of cricket and camaraderie.
“Enjoy the event and just do your best,” Collingwood told them. “There’s pressure in these matches, but remember that winning isn’t everything – it’s just 99 per cent of it!”
In the 27 years of the festival, 60 boys have gone on to play international cricket whilst 306 have played first-class cricket.
The list includes many current England team players including skipper Alistair Cook and leading bowler James Anderson.
Many current Durham players have also represented their region in the festival with the likes of Paul Collingwood, Graham Onions, Gordon Muchall, Chris Rushworth, Phil Mustard, Ben Stokes and Scott Borthwick – all Bunbury’s in their junior days.
Collingwood added: “Being picked to play in the Bunbury Festival and having an opportunity to represent the North was something a little bit special.
“The experience of playing in the festival gave me an insight into what it would take to be a professional cricketer.
“Looking back on it now, it also taught me that as pressure mounts it is important to remember that at the end of the day it is still the same game you used to love playing with your mates back home.”
The North face South & West at the Racecourse Ground from 10.45am today, while Midlands take on London & East at Maiden Castle at the same time.
Bunbury Twenty20 matches will take place at the Emirates Durham ICG from noon tomorrow.
And on Thursday, North take on Midlands at the Racecourse Ground, while London & East meet South & West at Maiden Castle. Both games again start at 10.45am.
Not only will the stars of tomorrow get to battle it out against the best in their age group, they will also get to play on the Emirates Durham ICG, the venue for the fourth Ashes Test Match, when they play two t20 matches tomorrow.
Teams will also get a ground tour and be able to watch the professionals in action, when they attend the Friends Life t20 match between Durham and Leicestershire on Thursday evening.