BURNMOOR hold a healthy lead going into Saturday’s final round of games, but last-day drama cannot be ruled out as an additional threat has suddenly emerged to their Readers Durham Cricket League title ambitions with rain forecast to possibly play some part in proceedings.
It would be a supreme irony if, in one of the best cricket summers for years, the weather decided to add to the last-day tensions as that would then muddy the tactical waters for the two contenders.
Burnmoor claimed a 20-point lead last weekend when old rivals Philadelphia toppled Esh Winning in a game that was also nerve-wracking for Burnmoor.
Skipper Alec Linsley told the Echo: “As we finished at 7pm, I then had to endure ‘torture by text’ as some of the lads watching the Philadelphia v Esh game kept sending score updates.
“It looked likely that Esh were going to win when they had Phili eight wickets down, but’ somehow or other, Phili’s last pair managed to scrape together enough runs for them to win by a solitary wicket.
“All of which means we need a minimum of 10 points from our last game against Tudhoe to seal the inaugural title.
“They are a dangerous side and there is no way we can just set out our stall to get 10 points, so we will look for the win as usual.”
Tudhoe present a serious challenge to Burnmoor’s ambitions.
Apart from the fact that they will be enjoying home advantage, they have lost just once in their last 22 matches, a run that has seen them rise to third place.
They have a full complement of players for this one, following the return of Alex McGrath, Tim Smalley and Stephen Brown.
Burnmoor make just one change, with Graham Stoker replacing the unavailable Michael Callaghan.
One thing is for sure, Burnmoor will not be fazed by the challenge – they have far too much experience of the big occasions for that to happen.
Success on Saturday would make it seven championships in 15 years.
So, while a rather large lady is not singing just yet, she is certainly clearing her throat.
Esh Winning do not have an easy game themselves. They entertain a Durham City side who have lost just once in 11 and still have an outside chance of making the top 14, if other results go their way.
Nick Howe took over as City skipper several games into the season, after they had suffered a poor start, and he has done a fine job in turning their fortunes around.
Howe will have to cope without Tom O’Neill and James Williamson, but both Danni Hazell and Will Dobson return.
Esh will miss wicketkeeper Michael Robson as he is climbing Ben Nevis, but the team have their own mountain to tackle after last week’s gut-wrenching defeat at Bunker Hill.
Former Durham keeper Graham Hurst steps into the breach once more.
The battle for middle earth reaches its final frontier, with both Hylton and Dawdon just needing a favourable result to confirm their place in the First Division for next season.
Hylton have Gavin Barnes and Stephen Lee-Merrington back to bolster their forces, and that puts them at full strength for the home game against Marsden, who do not have much to play for.
Dawdon have the tougher match on paper when they entertain fourth-placed Castle Eden, both teams confirming they have full squads to choose from.
Apart from Durham City, Mainsforth are the main threat.
They are 15th, 11 points behind the two teams just above them, and they have the opportunity to take advantage of a weakened Murton line-up when they host the Coast League champions.
Murton’s influential Jon Sample misses the game because of work commitments, and Jordan Vout, Phil Grimwood and Ian King are also expected to be unavailable for various reasons.
Another doubt is Keith Chapman as he will be travelling down to Leicester at some point in the day as Durham’s Over-50s prepare to take on Essex in Sunday’s Over-50 County Championship final.
Replacements have not yet been named.
For the rest of the teams, there is little to play for other than pride.
Boldon CA should confirm a top-10 finish when they round off with a home game against Horden, although they are missing skipper Tommy Nixon, Ian Male and Brian Conlon.
Easington are already assured of their top-10 slot, and they end with a home game against Ushaw Moor, with Peter Booth and Anthony Fox replacing Kevin Spanton and Nathan Graham, who have football commitments.
Two teams who will be in the lower tier next season are Ryhope, who bring in Danny Clasper for Liam Kirk for their home game against Crook, and Seaham Park.
Seaham Park’s final game is at Langley Park, which should represent an opportunity for a winning last appearance as skipper for Mike McNicholas.
He has held the captain’s job for nine consecutive years, but feels the time is right to pass on the baton. He has to reckon without Cavan McNicholas and Dean Andrews for this one, with Dave Moorhead and Chris Hudson drafted in.
The game will also represent the final appearance of overseas pro Gaurav Jathar, who has enjoyed an outstanding season.
With a career map that hopes to include a future in the first-class game, he needs to play at a higher level than the Second Division next year, and will move to pastures new with the club’s blessing.