THERE were those who argued against Durham County Cricket Club’s inclusion in the first-class game, writes Gary Foster.
But England must be thanking their lucky stars that the then Test and County Cricket Board had the foresight to grant Durham first-class status on December 6, 1991 – the first county in 70 years to be given such recognition.
In their brief history in highest echelons of English cricket, Durham – the current County Champions – have won the league crown three times (2008, 2009 and 2013) and the Friends Provident Trophy (2007).
But while the mark they have made on the domestic game in such a short space of time has been remarkable, the impact Durham have had on the national team has been nothing short of astonishing.
In 1996, Durham had their first England capped player in their short time as a first-class county. Cleadon-born Simon Brown played his one and only Test – against Pakistan at Lord’s in July, taking two wickets.
But it is in the past decade that Durham have truly made their mark on the England scene.
In the last 10 years, the men from the Emirates ICG have provided no fewer than six Test players for the national side – a tally not matched by any other county over the same period.
Ashington Express and former No1 bowler in the world Steve Harmison, and current Durham skipper Paul Collingwood both played in Ashes-winning squads.
Harmison played 63 Tests, taking 226 wickets, while Collingwood, who became the first England captain to ever deliver a global tournament when England beat Australia to win the 2010 World Twenty20, played 68 Tests scoring 4,259 runs and taking 17 wickets.
Liam Plunkett, now at Yorkshire, played in nine Test matches.
Graham Onions took 67 first-class wickets last season as Durham claimed the championship crown, but inexplicably wasn’t chosen to add to his nine England Test caps in last summer’s Ashes tour on home turf, nor the current one Down Under.
The latest Durham stars to make the graduation to the international stage are Ben Stokes and Scott Borthwick.
All-rounder Stokes has been tipped for big things for some time now.
And he has been one of the few bright spots in a rather dismal Ashes series, which has seen the tourists outplayed.
It seems highly likely that Stokes will be offered a central contract this summer, depriving Durham of his services.
Borthwick, who made his Test debut in the fifth and final match currently taking place in Sydney, seems further away from that, but could be offered a deal if England decide to start building for the future given Graeme Swann’s recent retirement.
While Durham will take justified pride from the success of their young duo, it could give them a real headache this season.
Losing the services of both Stokes and Borthwick would be a big blow, particularly given that they have further trimmed their squad in the winter due to financial constraints.
That, however, will not deter the club from striving to produce more future stars for both county and country.
So what’t the secret to Durham’s production line success?
The truth is it’s no secret, excellent coaching from the likes of Geoff Cook, some very talented players, and an ethos of giving youth its chance are play a huge part.
If you’re good enough, you’re old enough for Durham.
Perhaps it is apt that English cricket’s youngest county continues to youth its chance.
But that doesn’t mean what Durham have acheived should be taken for granted.
If England are to rebuild after this disastrous Ashes, they could do worse than follow Durham’s example.