This could be a big year for Durham CCC and especially for bowler Graham Onions

PUBLISHED: 15:22 09 May 2013 | UPDATED: 15:22 09 May 2013

Graham Onions

Graham Onions

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Twenty one years ago it might have been the way they’d dreamed of celebrating their coming of age: a Durham bowler rips through the Australian batting order to grab a dramatic victory for England in an Ashes Test at Chester-le-Street.

Durham County Cricket Club have proved themselves impressively adept at making dreams come true since those pioneers campaigned to have Durham admitted to the game’s inner sanctum of first class counties.

This August, as the club celebrates its 21st birthday in the top flight, most of the dream scenario is in place. They have the international ground, an Ashes Test is scheduled, England expect to start favourites and Graham Onions will be bowling his heart out all summer in the hope of being picked in to face Australia on his home ground.

Plenty of sceptics never thought Durham would convince Lord’s to admit an 18th county, let alone build a ground good enough to stage test cricket, especially this far north. Then the doubters thought the new boys would never build a winning team.

Two championships later, Durham approach their anniversary season looking to mount another title challenge after an uncomfortable first half of last season required a change of captaincy to inspire a climb up the first division table.

Durham’s management are rightfully proud of their unique heritage but rarely allow themselves to dwell too long on what has been achieved. But they are going to allow themselves to enjoy their 21st with that Fourth Investec Test against Australia itself a five day tribute to the Durham story.

Last year’s Player of the Season Graham Onions has spent the winter with England in India and New Zealand but remained frustratingly on the fringe of the team, ‘carrying a lot of drinks’ as he wryly put it. He still has that dream scenario we started with, in his reach.

‘I would love to be involved,’ he said unhesitatingly. ‘I played my second test for England against the West Indies at Chester-le-Street. I’m always careful not to look too far ahead but it’s in my hands to play on my home ground. I’ve been given a fantastic opportunity. It would be great to walk down those steps and go out and beat the Aussies. The first month of the season is very important to me. I need to perform to the best of my ability. This is an exciting season for the club and for me.

I want to play against the best in the world. I feel confident, fit and strong.’

Durham’s captain Paul Collingwood was just slightly adrift with his career timing. A couple of seasons ago he would have been a solid bet to be at the heart of an Ashes campaign. England’s Twenty20 World Cup winning skipper called it ‘the ultimate’ for a Durham man to face the Aussies on home soil.

‘Who would have thought it (an Ashes test at Durham)?’ he mused. ‘It’s pretty much ridiculous how much has been achieved here.’

Collingwood’s England career is the evidence Head Coach Geoff Cook points to when assessing Durham’s 21 years in the first class game. ‘We’ve provided the opportunity for young cricketers to become international players,’ says the former Northants and England batsman. ‘An unbelievable amount has been achieved and the Ashes Test is the accumulation of all the things that have happened.’

Cook has been with Durham through the whole journey but was living in the Midlands when the news reached him of the former minor county’s plans for first class status and to stage test cricket. So was Durham’s ultimate club man among the sceptics?

‘I admired the dream, the ambition,’ Cook said. ‘But I also knew the reality that it was a tough world to exist in county cricket. When I met the people involved though, I realised these were not just empty words. So I did believe, because they were so adamant it was going to happen, they were going to have international cricket here and ultimately that means an Ashes test.’

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