Four still in with a shout of the title

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AUGUST is almost out and autumn beckons, but for teams in the Dukes North East Premier League Division One there is still some serious cricket to be played – with four of the 10 teams still in with a realistic shout of grabbing the title and earning promotion to the Premier Division.

The feature of Division One cricket this summer has been the remarkably evenly matched abilities of the top eight sides, any one of which can beat another on any given day.

With no side able to dominate, the next three weekends are almost certain to throw up more twists and turns.

Even the weather can have a crucial say in matters, as it did last weekend when Brandon squeezed out victory from almost certain defeat at Seaham Harbour at the same time as Eppleton were being denied the chance to bowl a single ball against bottom club South Hetton.

Brandon chairman Ian Johnson recognised that the dice fell nicely for his club last weekend, and, despite a less than convincing season, during which they have lost five of their 15 games, the chance is now there to catch leaders South Shields.

Johnson said: “On a day where weather was always likely to be an issue, it looked a good toss to win so that we could bowl first and keep the game under control if there was rain, which we managed to do.”

But, despite a modest Harbour target of 150, Brandon slumped to 82-8 before a remarkable match-winning ninth-wicket partnership pulled the game out of the fire.

“That win gets us right back in the thick of things,” added Johnson.

“Whilst Shields still hold a healthy advantage, we still have them to play so it should be a fascinating last three games.”

That match comes next weekend, but before then Brandon host Sacriston on Saturday, while Shields have home advantage against struggling South Hetton.

The feeling is that Shields really do need to make the most of their game against the bottom club, with Brandon to come and the final day of the season involving a difficult trip to Washington.

Sacriston are more than capable of upsetting the Brandon applecart – Mo Ali and Dan Anderson were in excellent batting form last week before rain brought an abrupt end to their game against Shields.

The same pairing also featured in the first meeting between the two sides when Sacriston thrashed Brandon by eight wickets after bowling them out for 65 in a game that only lasted a total of 43 overs.

With the final month of County Championship matches beginning this weeked, Shields will probably have to reckon without the crucial services of Durham batsman Gordon Muchall in the run-in, but they should still have too much firepower for a South Hetton side who have won just once all season and are 127 points behind their opponents.

Eppleton’s run-in starts with a match at Boldon on Saturday before they round off with two home games against Felling and Brandon.

The match at Boldon could be the toughest of the lot as their hosts were boosted by winning the Hedworth Williamson Trophy last Sunday, where they toppled both Philadelphia and hosts Whitburn.

Davey Wilkinson remains the only absentee for Eppleton, while Boldon have Phil Shakespeare and Neil Johnson returning, although Neil Mulvaney is on holiday.

Seaham Harbour have shown some excellent form in recent weeks, although that has come too late for them to mount a challenge.

This weekend, they entertain Felling and expect to be unchanged from the side that pushed Brandon to the limits, their only doubt being over the availability of Jack Lacey.