It’s getting down to nitty gritty time in the Readers Durham Cricket League, writes Chris West.
With just six games to go, there is very little chance of recovery if teams in the promotion battle slip up at this late stage, so the heat will be on in each and every match.
Tudhoe are the team in pole position at the moment, while Burnmoor are 12 points behind them in second place, but with the possibility that the promotional tap on the shoulder could include any team down to fourth in the table, every point becomes crucial.
Two are set to be promoted to the NEPL at the end of the campaign, and whilst final placings will be the initial criteria, grounds and facilities are also going to play a part with minimum standards having to be met before elevation is confirmed, and if either of the top two sides don’t meet those then promotion could go to the third or fourth placed teams.
Tudhoe continue their quest for glory with a home game against Mainsforth, although they will be missing their skipper, Tim Smalley, so Ross Hodgson will captain.
Burnmoor also have home advantage for their game against Hylton, and they will have a familiar face back to take them through the vital run-in.
It’s over a month ago since skipper Alec Linsley suffered a severe finger fracture, but he took part in his first competitive match earlier this week in a cup tie, even keeping wicket, and he came through that unscathed and so will be on duty behind the sticks again.
With Stephen Meek back from his holidays, that gives the Moor a full deck of cards with which to try and deal out a winning hand.
Hylton received a major boost to their confidence when they overpowered Crook by 135 runs last week, victory keeping them 34 points clear of the relegation zone. Their skipper, Alan Mustard, has been a major influence in recent weeks and with Gav Barnes back in harness after recovering from injury, and Andrew Kibble returned from his holidays, the only doubt in the squad remains the injured Liam Foster.
Alan had some particular praise for Aussie amateur Clint Gilbert, who played a key role in last week’s win: “Clint bowled well, taking four wickets, and it was good to see him in good form with the ball. He’s played some Grade cricket for Fremantle in Western Australia.
“As well as his right arm seamers, he looks a very good left-handed bat who scores runs quickly. He’s done well and I think there’s even more to come from him, especially with the bat.”
Despite the win, Alan still knows there is work to be done: “We play Burnmoor this week, which will be a tough test, and then after that four of our last five games are against teams who are in the same part of the table as ourselves.
“So pretty much our destiny is in our own hands and if we perform well for the rest of the season I’m confident that we can avoid the drop.”
Esh Winning currently occupy third place, and they are back to full strength with the return of Stuart Hall for their home game against Boldon CA, who are facing one or two selection issues with skipper Tommy Nixon, along with Ian Male and Andy McCord, unavailable.
Lee Jackson will captain, while Jason Jones, Rajan Kumerasamy and Mickey Harvey are brought in.
Castle Eden have gradually worked their way up the table in a seven game unbeaten run, and they are now fourth in the pecking order, with a trip to Easington beckoning. They should be packing a promotional punch as everyone is available following the return of Alan Unsworth.
In the other games, Dawdon keep faith with the same eleven who lost heavily at Evenwood last time out, while their visitors Horden are missing both Matthew Billyard and Stephen Brett with Josh Broom one of the replacements.
Philadelphia go to Evenwood and include promising fast bowler James Davison alongside Mattie Noble who has just returned from university, the pair replacing the unavailable Stephen Robinson and Dan Foggin.
Just one point separates the two leading sides in Division Two. Bill Quay hold the advantage over Durham City, and they go to Silksworth this Saturday for the next stage of their promotion bid.
Quay have Davey Newstead and Micky Orridge available again, although Paul Bentham and Mark Cuskeran will be absent, while their hosts are almost at optimum strength with Jonny Hayes and Paul Bradford back in harness.
Elsewhere, Durham entertain Peterlee just one week after the bottom club very nearly toppled Bill Quay before settling for a very honourable draw.
Third-placed Whiteleas, 18 points behind but still with that vital game in hand, welcome back Andrew Potts and Rob Scorer for their home game against Ushaw Moor.