IT’S one step forward and one step backwards at the moment for Chester-le-Street as they struggle to find their Dukes North East Premier League early-season rhythm.
The wettest April for years has taken its toll, with shock results and performances almost becoming the norm for every club on bowler-friendly surfaces.
Last weekend typified the Cestrians’ season so far as they brushed aside the league challenge of Gateshead Fell in imperious style on Saturday, but were then surprisingly beaten the following day in the national club cup that they hold dear to their hearts.
That setback adds even greater importance to this Saturday’s Ropery Lane game against leaders Blaydon, who rolled out the biggest shock of the season so far when they skittled South North for one of their lowest ever scores to go top.
Chester will have Simon Birtwisle returning from injury to bolster their squad, while York student Fraser Campbell is set for another outing after hitting a half-century on debut last week. Blaydon are at full strength, their motivation being the chance to topple both of the “big two” in consecutive weeks.
Sunderland were taking the league leadership plaudits last Saturday night after over-estimating their points return from the derby drubbing of Newcastle. A re-check of the labyrinthine points system the following day meant a reduction of four that confirmed they were actually second to Blaydon.
The Wearsiders had the last-minute benefit of Chris Rushworth’s services for the Newcastle match, after Durham’s early return from London, and with the county in CB40 action this Sunday it is hoped he will be available to face Tynemouth at Preston Avenue.
If he does turn out, Rushworth will resume a deadly partnership with Kieran Waterson, who heads the early-season wicket-takers list with 13 victims at an impressive average of 8.23.
Keeper Chris Youldon is still on the injury list, but, other than that, Sunderland will be at full strength against a Tynemouth team that includes Durham player Mark Wood for the first time as he begins his recuperation from an injury that will probably prevent him bowling just yet. Josh Koen returns from University to strengthen the home team’s seam attack, while Richie Straughan is drafted in to open the batting.
Durham Academy found Preston Avenue to their liking last week, and they have enjoyed a bright start to their campaign. The accent has been placed very firmly on youth this year, and they have three batsmen in the top 15 run-scorers list, all aged 18 or under.
A settled team travels to Grangefield to take on a Stockton side who have found run-scoring a problem so far, although their attack has a much sharper edge this year, with Richard Waite and Jamie Harrison the key performers.
In Saturday’s other games, Andrew Elliott replaces Gareth Dunn in the South Shields team which entertains Hetton Lyons, Mark Lockey comes into the Gateshead Fell side to meet Newcastle, and unchanged South North host Benwell Hill.
Benwell Hill are the visitors to Ashbrooke on Sunday when Sunderland hope to finally complete their first round national cup tie.