STEPHEN Harmison dreads the thought of a Durham County Cricket Club without Geoff Cook at the helm – but fortunately he sees that day as still being way off.
Since making his Durham debut in 1996, fast bowler Harmison has been an integral part of the club. But his influence pales into insignificance alongside 61-year-old Cook.
The opener joined Durham in late 1990 to captain the Minor Counties side and oversee the transition to First-Class status in 1992. Twenty-three years on he is still there as head coach.
“Durham are in a very good place at this moment of time because they’re being led by Geoff, but when he does go, he’s probably going to leave the biggest hole any sports team has to fill in the whole of the country,” said Harmison. “He’s given so much to the cricket club, and I’m not sure any other sports club is as reliant on someone as we are on Geoff Cook. You can’t pay any higher compliment than that. I dread to think what will happen without him.”
Cook took back the coaching reins for a second time in 2007 having previously focussed on developing the club’s young players as director of cricket. His first full season saw the Riversiders lift their first major trophy, and they won consecutive County Championships in the next two summers.
With a benefit year and a contract now into its last 12 months, Harmison is approaching the end of his time as a Durham player. He is confident their future will be safe without him.
“The groundwork is there, and it’s been led by Geoff,” he said. “You might not always agree with him or think he’s talking the same language we are, but he rubs off on us. I know I’m speaking for everyone else when I say we have the utmost respect for him.
“Geoff has only one thing in his heart, and that’s Durham. The only way he’s going to leave is in a box because he loves the club so much. I was with him earlier in the week, and he was there feeding a bowling machine so some young trialists from the sub-continent could do a bit of practice. For a successful first-team coach to be doing that in the middle of winter is remarkable. But that’s why he’s so good.
“Geoff has respect off everybody. Not everyone might agree with what he says or does, but you listen to him, he listens to you, and if you can’t get him to change his mind, it’s generally because he’s right. Geoff is up there with Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsène Wenger in terms of being an inspirational leader of a team. What he’s done on the coaching side to help take Durham to where they are is nothing short of incredible.
“He loves the club so much I don’t think he will ever leave. That attitude has rubbed off on people like me, Paul (Collingwood) and Neil Killeen, who is also still involved. I’ve been given so much by that club, that if there’s anything I can do in the rest of my life to give something back to them, I’ll do it.”
Youngsters Scott Borthwick and Ben Stokes will no doubt be asked to follow the trail blazed by Harmison and Collingwood, for England as well as Durham.
“Everyone is saying Borthwick and Stokes will play (Test cricket) for England, but you don’t really know how people will react until they go out and play there.
“So much of it is between your ears. The selectors were man enough to give Joe Root a go, but our young players probably haven’t had that push yet. They can go on to a brighter future, but they have to be given a chance and understand what they’ve got.”