Durham despairs as ECB comes down hard on financially stricken club

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The English Cricket Board (ECB) sent shockwaves through the English cricket community last week as they revealed the relegation of Durham Cricket Club from division one of The County Championship. This, alongside a points deduction across all three formats in the 2017 season, was to be the punishment for the club’s financial woes. On top of this, the Riverside stadium has been stripped of test match status with the test against Sri Lanka earlier this year, proving to be their last.

The North-East based club received the punishment in return for a £3.8 million bail-out suit that prevented them from going out of business in May. The £3.8 million package will enable Durham to pay tax bills, operating costs and settle a debt with one of its creditors. The ECB has also set off £2 million of the club’s existing debt.

However, many are aggrieved with the decision to penalize the players who fought hard to regain division one status in the 2016 season, an anger that is amplified further by the role the ECB had in the issue.

Durham were granted First-Class status by the ECB in 1992, under the condition that a state-of-the-art stadium was built, capable of hosting international cricket. Fast forward to 2010 and 10 country grounds have internationally viable stadiums, many of which needed the test match income to cover debts from stadium construction.

However, with 10 grounds all desperate for hosting rights, the ECB needed a way of deciding which country grounds would host test matches, thus a bidding process was created. This process saw clubs borrowing money to lure the best quality cricket and a potentially potent revenue opportunity; however, this was borrowed money that was often hard to pay back. Durham’s initial debt from stadium construction, added to money borrowed for the bidding process saw them verging on insolvency, only to be rescued by the ECB.

One can’t help but symptathise with the players who fought valiantly, and successfully, to maintain on field survival, with a win against surrey in the penultimate week of the season ensuring division one status in the 2017 season, or so they thought.

Paul Collingwood, who has been a Durham player since schoolboy level and was appointed captain in 2012, is one such player who feels harshly treated.

“The players are 100 per cent innocent here.” He said. “In the background, it hasn’t been run as efficiently as it should have been. The extent of how it has been run has probably been brought across to the players, and unfortunately we are the ones who have to take the brunt of the decision.

It’s such a kick in the teeth because we know how hard it’s been to continue our first division status with all the strains that have been on our team in the last few years.”

Durham are also subject to a revised salary cap from April 2017 to April 2020 under the ECB’s Team Salary Payment (TSP) Regulations, set at a level to be determined annually by the ECB Board. This is a move which has no doubt had an influence on the impending transfers of Durham locals and veterans Scott Borthwick, Michael Stoneman and Phil Mustard to financially stable Surrey and Gloucestershire respectively.

The punishment from the ECB will starve the north east of their cricketing cravings and, as Michael Vaughan aptly tweeted “It’s the kids of the north east I worry about”, with a loss not only of the world class test match players who will no longer be visiting, but also the players who have shared the streets with the spectators.

As a result, Derbyshire and Glamorgan will replace Sri Lanka and Australia as visitors to Chester-Le-Street’s Riverside Stadium next summer, and while Yorkshire and Warwickshire find themselves in similarly perilous financial positions, their conurbation as city-central based counties sees them afforded frequent revenue opportunities to stay solvent, whilst Durham, with their modest small-town base, have been punished severely for factors arguably out of their control.

Many will can complain, but the steps have now been taken, and whilst Kent will continue to dispute their right to be the immediate beneficiaries in terms of division 1 status instead of Hampshire, Durham are sure to start 2017 in division 2, without test match cricket; a sorry tale for the most successful side across all competitions in the last decade. While there is no doubt that the Durham faithful will rally around the club in the coming years in attempt to secure promotion and re-instate test match cricket, the headache for the club is definitely one they would rather do without.

 

Photograph: Wikipedia Commons

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