Durham Cricket League: Esh’s title might not be enough for step-up – decision due on Saturday

Hylton's Andrew Kibble bowls to Dawdon's John Leslie last weekend
Hylton's Andrew Kibble bowls to Dawdon's John Leslie last weekend
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They think it’s all over! Well, they may have to think again.

Runaway Division One champions Esh Winning, who are an unassailable 37 points ahead of second-placed Mainsforth – going into the final round of fixtures on Saturday – are still, at the time of writing, uncertain whether they will be promoted to the North East Premier League.

Following a ground and facilities inspection undertaken a couple of weeks ago by the NEPL to ascertain whether the champions met the minimum criteria for entry, there have been ongoing discussions between the club and their prospective new league which are due to be concluded before the weekend, with a final decision likely to be announced before the start of Saturday’s play.

If it came down to Esh Winning not meeting criteria then NEPL rules dictate that the runners-up, providing they also meet the minimum criteria, will play-off against the bottom club in the NEPL First Division, which is already known to be South Hetton.

If such a match were necessary, it would take place on Saturday, September 19, at South Hetton under Banks Salver rules, and if weather intervened then an attempt would be made to play it the following day.

All this has banished the end of season feeling that would normally have pervaded Saturday’s final top-level fixtures.

While Esh Winning’s home game against Horden has little material meaning as there is nothing at stake, no doubt the new champions will want to make some sort of on-field statement, although they will have to do so without their overseas man, Suhrawadi Shuvo, who has already returned home to Bangladesh.

Top batter Stuart Hall is also missing.

Meanwhile, Mainsforth would be delighted to be handed the opportunity of a play-off, and therefore finishing second will be all that is on their minds when they entertain a Bill Quay side who still have lingering relegation worries.

The hosts make one rotational change to an otherwise full strength line-up, with youngsters Jamie Appleby and Ryan Dawson swapping places.

Quay are 20 points ahead of second-bottom Hylton, so still have work to do, but, while they have struggled at the wrong end of the table for most of the summer, their better performances have come against the stronger sides, including Esh and Mainsforth.

With Dave Newstead unavailable, all-rounder Stuart Gray is promoted following an outstanding second-team performance last week.

Dawdon are just eight points behind Mainsforth and therefore in with a real chance of taking the runners-up spot if results go their way.

Their season ends with a trip to Bunker Hill, where hosts Philadelphia have Paul Hollinshead and Greg Halliday back to make up a full-strength side.

Despite the excellent season enjoyed by his side, Dawdon skipper Stephen Gale believes promotion to the Premier League this year would come too early for his club and therefore it is unlikely they’d take any such opportunity if it were offered.

Notwithstanding that, the Green Drive men still want to finish well, and have just David Coates missing as they go in search of a final-day victory.

At the opposite end of the table, Hylton fear the worst after last week’s pounding by Dawdon left them with a last-day mountain to climb.

All they can do is go for broke at Crook, but they have to reckon without the services of Gary Frater and Marlon Black for another week.

Town simply say they will be fielding the strongest team they can get out at this time of year given the football and other commitments of some of their players.