Harker revels in Durham success

Lv County Championship

Steve Harmison & Mark Ealham

Steve Harmison celebrates the pivotal moment for Durham on Saturday as he confirms victory by bowling Mark Ealham

Chief executive David Harker is confident Durham can continue to break new ground after the county captured their second consecutive LV= County Championship title.

Harker was in attendance at the Riverside to witness Durham romp to an innings-and-52-run win over Nottinghamshire, which ensured they kept hold of the title after winning it for the first time in their history last season.

This time around Durham have wrapped up proceedings with two games to spare - they have not lost this summer - and Harker believes the playing staff, a large contingent of whom are locally-produced talent, are also capable of continuing their superb form for the remainder of this season and beyond.

“I don’t know whether this is a pinnacle for me because hopefully there is still more to come,” he told ecb.co.uk.

“It was a great day for the club [on Saturday]. To be champions is a wonderful feeling and a great experience, but to do it for a second year running, to retain the title, helps make it that little bit more special.”

Harker has been at the county since it was granted first-class status in 1991, being fundamental in its transformation into a county that has not only challenged regularly for domestic honours in the recent past but also provided pivotal players for the national side as well as boasting world-class facilities and hospitality.

“We endured some pretty hard times in the early days as we found our feet,” Harker added.

“It’s great to see the backbone of the side is very much local. We are the centre of excellence for cricket, if you like, in the whole of the north-east.

“In my view the north-east deserves top-quality domestic cricket, top-quality facilities and, of course, international cricket as well.”

Along with the prestige of securing back-to-back championship titles comes the significant financial benefits now on offer in the four-day game, with Harker also quick to praise the decision to increase prizemoney from £100,000 to £500,000 for the champion county this year.

“This is a really tough competition that is the breeding ground for future Test players,” he said. “Therefore, I think the initiative to boost the prizemoney and make a statement about how important this competition is was a fantastic move.

Riverside

As well as developing on the pitch, Durham have also invested their way to success with continual development of a Riverside venue that is now fit to stage Test cricket

“We’ve won it at a bit of a canter this year, which is unusual because the competition is normally very tight indeed.”

While the triumph of the playing staff at Durham cannot be understated, it also speaks volumes about the ethos of the club that their success was witnessed by nearly 10,000 fans on the final two days of the game against Notts.

Durham provided free entry for the finale and, helped by the fantastic September sunshine, attracted bumper crowds that not only created a unique atmosphere during the game but also saw the astonishing sight during the intervals of an outfield heaving with children and adults playing impromptu games of cricket.

“That’s what this is about; it is only about the players and the fans,” Harker said. “You want the fans to feel as if they are a part of the club and enjoy the experience.

“It is still one of the things about the game that the players, certainly at county level, are by and large very accessible, very open to the people that support them. It should be a shared experience.”

Harker also reserved special words of praise for captain Will Smith, whose handling of a squad teeming with internationals in just his first year at the helm leads him to believe he can go a long way in the game.

“There’s no doubt about it,” Harker commented. “Will is a very bright lad and this is only his first season as captain.

“I think he’ll be the first to admit it has been hard work and he’s learned during the course of this season, but at 26 he’s hopefully got another 10 to 15 years in front of him and I’m sure each year he will learn a little bit more about the art of captaincy.”