By Chris West
DURHAM Academy return to Ropery Lane on Saturday just six days after their superb triumph in the Banks Salver final, and if they repeat that performance they could well bring an end to Chester-le-Street’s title dreams.
The Cestrians moved a precious five points ahead of South North in last week’s rain-ruined programme and they now stand just one step away from making it a hat-trick of championships.
But the Academy have a fully fit squad who have been bang in form recently, culminating with that impressive Salver victory when they had 68 runs to spare.
Rammi Singh, with 82 from 85 balls, and South African Under-19 skipper Keaton Jennings, with 66 from 73, powered the Academy to a formidable 45-over total of 284,. With Jamie Harrison once again an early thorn in the Cestrians’ side’ the hosts were never in the hunt.
And those three will all be in action again as Chester try for the 26 points that would guarantee them another title. The hosts have only the one doubt – over Graeme Cessford’s availability because of potential work commitments.
Sunderland stand in South North’s way on the final day.
With home advantage, the Wearsiders are likely to provide stiff opposition as South North try to gather as many points as possible and hope that Chester crash.
As expected, the Gosforth outfit are at full strength for this last leg of a remarkable season in which they have clawed back 76 points on the Cestrians in the last nine matches to turn the final Saturday into one of the most intriguing in the league’s history. Sunderland have a full squad at their disposal, which includes Chris Rushworth.
If South North have sizzled in the second half of the campaign then so, too, have Hetton Lyons who are on an 11-game unbeaten run, culminating in last week’s demolition job on Stockton.
The secret of their success is easy to see with Gary Scott (719) and Shaun Birbeck (705) first and second in the league run-scorer’s charts, and Ryan Pringle (48) topping the wicket-takers list.
The terrific trio are all available for Lyons’ final match at home to Blaydon, victory in which will almost certainly guarantee them a best ever fourth-place finish.
Lyons also meet Tudhoe in Sunday’s Tom Burn Cup final.
South Shields get the chance to move up a place when they take on fellow strugglers Stockton, the pair separated by just four points but well clear of the only side below them, Gateshead Fell.
It has been a annus horribilis for Fell, and one they will be glad to see the back of after winning just once in 21 outings, a run that sees them 54 points adrift of Shields.
They finish off at Tynemouth without Matt Milton, who has returned to Australia. The home side also have selection issues with Andrew Smith, Matty Brown and skipper Barry Stewart out. Ben Debnam captains in his absence.