CHESTER-LE-STREET’S burning ambition to regain the national club knockout crown took a massive step forward last Sunday when they reached the regional final.
They brushed aside the challenge of Harrogate in the regional semi-final to book their place in the July 3, showdown.
In a game reduced to 37 overs per side, the result was never in doubt after the Yorkshire side had been held to a score of 191-6.
John Coxon hit an unbeaten 86 at better than a run-a-ball and the returning Liam Simpson ended proceedings in a blaze of glory with 44 from 23 balls, the Cestrians winning with four overs to spare.
They now await the winners of the other semi-final between South North and Blaydon, which only managed a handful of overs last week before the rain halted proceedings.
That match will be replayed on Sunday, but Chester can again concentrate on consolidating their already imposing lead at the top of the league table.
Their next league hurdle on Saturday is a home match against the Durham Academy.
A few weeks ago, when the Academy were struggling with a lengthy injury list, this would have been seen as a formality.
However, with almost a full squad now available, the youngsters present a different proposition and memories of last season, when Jamie Harrison ripped Chester’s batting apart, will still be fresh in some home minds.
However, Harrison is the one injury doubt for Durham, who will hand a delayed debut to Whitehaven’s Andrew Ireland, while with Graeme Cessford back this week, Chester have a full-strength squad to choose from.
Sunderland face an intriguing game at Roseworth Terrace, where the wounded South North are having to come to terms with the status of being challengers rather than champions these days, their three league defeats outlining their vulnerability.
For the Wearsiders, the expected availability of Chris Rushworth is a real bonus – he was in menacing form for the 14 overs of play in last week’s game against Stockton, when he bagged a couple of wickets before the rain closed in.
He will be needed against a full-strength home line-up still capable of playing outstanding cricket.
The bottom four sides in the league meet head-on this weekend.
South Shields’ trip to Teesside to take on Stockton will certainly be seen as a valuable chance for a win for the only club still to record a victory.
Gateshead Fell, who will be missing torn ankle ligaments victim Steve Devenport, will be desperate to make maximum use of home advantage against Tynemouth.
H Tomorrow night sees the last round of T20 group matches, with finals day places up for grabs.
In Group A, Chester are already through, but there is a three-way tussle for the second spot between Hetton Lyons, Sunderland and the Durham Academy and it could go down to net run rate calculations.
All three have the same record going into the last games, in which Lyons play the Wearsiders and the Academy take on Stockton on Teesside.