9:14pm Friday 16th March 2012
By Tim Wellock
Sedgefield may be better known for Tony Blair, its racecourse and even its Shrove Tuesday ball game. But it is about to take a big stride on to the cricketing map.
The transformation from lowly village club to members of a premier league will be completed when they step out at Feethams to play Darlington in their opening match on April 21.
Sedgefield's promotion to the top flight of the North Yorkshire and South Durham League coincides with the league's elevation to ECB premier status and has also seen them leapfrog Bishop Auckland, who were relegated last year.
"We can't believe we're ahead of clubs like Bishops, Saltburn and Northallerton," said club chairman David Iceton, a member of a long-established Sedgefield family who is keen to hang on to a strong village identity.
His previous claim to fame is as one of three brothers who have all won the ball game and the annual rough and tumble was started this year by their mother, Vera, who has obviously raised boys who are prepared to fight for what they can get.
It's a quality which David is calling upon to raise the money for the two professionals they are allowed, saying: "It's hard work and I'm still talking to potential sponsors."
Treasurer Bob Edmundson, who has been with the club for 50 years, added: "We left the Durham County League in 2004 so we wouldn't have to pay for a pro. Now we're going to have to pay for two."
Edmundson won an OSCA (outstanding services to cricket award) two years ago, when he was runner-up nationally in the behind-the-scenes category and had his award presented by Michael Vaughan at Lord's.
He oversaw much of the fund-raising which has allowed the club to spend £100,000 over three years on extending the clubhouse. They can seat up to 120 for functions and have built new changing rooms, an umpires' room, kitchen, toilets, a garage for the ground equipment, and an electronic scoreboard.
"About £80,000 came from grants," said Bob. "Finding enough money to cover overheads has always been a struggle, and our location on the edge of the village has been a bit of a handicap. But we are now overcoming that.
"We offer discounted drinks for social members paying £10 a year and that has attracted 200 people. Once they've paid their money they want to use the premises. Someone put on Facebook after a recent christening party that we were the best venue in the area."
When Edmundson joined in 1962 the club were in the long-defunct South East Durham League.
"It was a struggle to raise 11 players," he said. "Now we have three senior teams and four junior teams."
They joined the Darlington and District League in 1971, moved up a level to the Durham County League in 1985, winning it in 1993, and switched to the NYSD in 2005.
They were promoted from the third tier in their second season and after finishing tenth, tenth, 11th and fifth they won the division one title last season.
The professionals Sedgefield have signed are former Pakistan Test paceman Mohammad Zahid and Billingham-born Berkshire all-rounder Steven Naylor, who are both in their mid-30s.
Naylor is also bringing along his close friend Richard Hawthorne, an all-rounder who played for Durham seconds in the early 1990s and spent most of last season with his home club, Bishop Auckland.
Zahid took 11 wickets in the match on his Test debut against New Zealand in 1997 and at the time he was rated the fastest bowler in the world by Brian Lara.
But he suffered a stress fracture of the back that year and appears not to have carried the same threat on his comeback, making the last of his five Test appearances in 2003.
Now living in South Bank, he played for Marton when they won the NYSD League in 2009 and topped the league bowling averages. He was with Burnmoor in the Durham Senior League last year.
Naylor will be available only at weekends as he works as a business development manager at Lord's. Berkshire are the third minor county he has represented and he made his highest score of 188 for them against Cornwall last season. He appeared as a replacement pro for Normanby Hall last season, totalling 225 runs in three innings and he is also a useful bowler who can switch from medium pace to off spin.
"After we won the title on the Saturday last year we spoke to Jonathan Barnes on the Wednesday," said Iceton. "We knew he would be available after Northallerton were relegated, but Darlington had already lined him up, so we'll be facing him in our first match.
"But things have turned out well and everyone I speak to tells me we've made two really good signings. We've lost three outsiders from last year and, with Richard Hawthorne, we've brought three in.
"The rest of the team are Sedgefield lads and we're keen to keep it that way. There's a really good camaraderie and we want to give local youngsters a chance. We run Under-11s, 13s, 15s and 17s and can have up to 100 kids here. We had six in county junior teams last season."
Local farmer Phil Heslop, who has been with the club for 26 years, will captain the team for a third season and expects to give opportunities to left-arm paceman Adam Randall, who is in Durham's Under-17 academy.
Other highly-rated youngsters are right-arm seamer Kieran McAdam and wicketkeeper/batsman Tom Young.
"Steve Bell does a brilliant job running the junior section. He helps them get on coaching courses and we have five in Durham's Under-15 academy thanks to Steve's hard work."
Including himself, Heslop estimates he will be able to call on seven or eight members of the team to bowl and will be relying for runs on Naylor, Hawthorne, vice-captain Edward Johnson and long-serving opening batsman Martin Lower.
Among the professionals the club tried in their County League days were Wayne Larkins and New Zealander Paul Hodder, who also played rugby for West Hartlepool.
Local farmer Graham Smith, an all-rounder who played for Bishop Auckland and Durham as a minor county, was in the title-winning team of 1993, while the stalwart who prospered most after the step up from village cricket was batsman Denis Sawyers.
The club was founded in the 1880s and the current picturesque ground was donated by landowner Capt Edward Ramsden in 1955 with a stipulation that it must be used only for cricket.
An extra 15-metre strip of land was provided by the Hardwick Park regeneration project seven years ago and the adjacent field on that side of the ground is now occupied by the rugby club, who use the cricket club's facilities.
"It's useful for us to have their custom," said Iceton. "There are also plans for a bowling green on land behind our clubhouse and the bowls club will also want to use our facilities.
"We've also worked hard to improve the square over the years and there are often 500 runs scored on a Saturday afternoon. Durham junior teams have played here and we've twice hosted Durham Ladies. They had a game here against Derbyshire, who said they'd never been so well looked after.
"These are exciting times for us, but our objective in our first season is just to stay out of the bottom two. We've worked hard to get here and we don't want to be a one-season wonder."
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