By Glen Robertson
“Please don’t make this too much about myself; it’s very much about Durham.” Geoff Cook is not one to hog the limelight and he was not about to start now.
Three months after he had suffered a heart attack, which left the Durham players fearing the worst, the 61-year-old was stood proudly on the Emirates Durham ICG turf celebrating his side’s third LV= County Championship title in six seasons.
But despite the questions about his health and the history of the club, that only achieved first-class status 21 years ago, it was talking about the future that really interested Cook.
“We need to build on what we have now; it’s by no means a finished article,” he said. “The young cricketers are by no means finished cricketers.
“A couple of them have just put their toes in the water. (Usman) Arshad’s played three or four games, (Jamie) Harrison’s played half a dozen games, (Keaton) Jennings has played no more than a season. They’ve got a long, long way to go (but) as long as their ambition is there, they have the ability to take themselves forward.
“They’ve got a lot to learn and one of our aims is to keep moving forward as a group and make sure we consolidate our position as a decent team and if we get a chance to win something next year, try and do that again.”
The latest title was wrapped up against the odds. Hit by a points deduction for breaking the salary cap and losing experienced players Ian Blackwell and Michael Di Venuto from the club and Dale Benkenstein to injury, many tipped the north-east county for relegation.
But led by experienced duo Paul Collingwood and Graham Onions, backed by a raft of homegrown players - of the XI that beat Nottinghamshire this week only Will Smith and Collingwood did not come through the club’s academy, in the latter’s case because his time at the club pre-dates the development pathway - Durham surged to the title on the back of a club-record five successive wins at the end of the year.
Cook believes the system of bringing through youngsters created a strong team spirit that helped them over the line.
He said: “Sometimes you have to do little bits to manufacture team spirit in a false way, when you bring people together, but this year we find ourselves with the majority of the lads coming through the academy; they already have a lot of Durham in their blood and they’ve gelled brilliantly.
“They’ve supported each other when things haven’t gone for certain individuals and they’ve made sure to pick them up. If we had a group of young players without that streak it would have been doubly difficult.
“But along with Paul’s north-eastern attachment and his experience... he’s been able to be very sensitive, very supportive and very sympathetic towards them and they’ve relished that.”
Cook’s attention now turns to next season, where he is determined for his side follow their own example, when they recorded back-to-back successes in 2008 and 2009, and not mirror Lancashire’s 2011 winners - who were relegated the following year.
“I’m determine that apathy doesn’t creep in and players continue to do the right things to make sure they give themselves every chance of having a fantastic career, either with England or with Durham, which a lot of them are more than capable of,” he said.
As for Cook, who says he was feeling like his old self a week after his heart attack, he is planning for another few years being involved with the club.
He said: “I’ve been lucky to be involved with Durham. I was in the right place at the right time 21 years ago and it’s been an honour to be at the front of many things that have gone on.
“If I can keep that going for another couple of years that’s fantastic but the important thing is the club keeps promoting itself as part of the north east and the cricketers keep promoting themselves as cricketers and a decent cricket team.”