IT’S been a busy old winter for the Readers Durham Cricket League executive as they completed the ground work for another historic season for the fledgling competition.
The inaugural campaign in 2013 saw 26 clubs from three separate leagues thrown together in one division, the primary object being to determine the future pecking order based on the final table.
And despite one or two changes of plan that pecking order has now been established with 14 teams comprising the new First Division, and 11 making up the new Second Division.
Promotion and relegation between the two divisions will operate on a two up and two down basis.
In terms of the forced changes to plans, the main one revolved around the shock resignation of Kimblesworth from the league.
The club were one of the powerhouses of cricket in the county, having followed three consecutive Durham County League titles by winning the championship of the Durham Senior League at the first time of asking.
But, just a year after that major achievemen,t the club found themselves drastically short of players and decided to drop a couple of levels and play in the North East Durham League this season.
Durham Cricket League chairman Roy Simpson explained the background to that dramatic development, saying: “Talks with Kimblesworth and the DCL executive were long and protracted as we tried very hard to find a compromise that would allow them to continue in the DCL, but it was not to be and they tendered their resignation which we reluctantly accepted.
“This left an imbalance of competing teams in Division One and we agreed to invite Mainsforth, who finished 15th last year, to move up and compete in the top division and take the place and fixtures of Kimblesworth.
“This means that there will be only 11 clubs in Division Two this summer, but steps have already been taken to fill the vacancy in the 2015 season.”
The major carrot for Division One teams is that the two sides who finish at the top of the table should, subject to meeting certain Premier League set criteria, be promoted to that league.
There is little doubt that reigning champions Burnmoor will begin as heavy favourites to claim one of those two places.
The title holders have lost a few players from the title-winning team, but they have recruited well and it is hard to look beyond the perpetual high achievers.
Jimmy Daley has retired, Gary Brown will retire “a bit more than he did last year” and, with Paul Davidson and Mark Robson unavailable due to work commitments, there was a fairly hefty gap to fill, particularly as South African Brandon Scullard has not returned.
But fill it Burnmoor have with the star signings of Stephen Meek and Paul Craig, two of the major forces behind Kimblesworth’s previous glory days.
Also joining from the same club is Craig Robertson and, with Neil Young returning to the Moor after several seasons with Eppleton, the addition of 18-year-old South African all-rounder Brydon Carse, who has represented his country at Under-19 level, is likely to be the icing on the cake.
Just who will be up there challenging with Burnmoor is harder to pinpoint.
Certainly, Esh Winning can never be discounted, and last year’s runners-up have been boosted by the return from Sacriston of leg spinner Ryan Moralee. Castle Eden, who have become perennial challengers in recent years, have Colin Ede back in their squad.
Philadelphia showed signs of a return to former glories last summer, and they have seen several comings and goings over the close season.
Gary Hewitt has moved to Boldon CA, Gary Innes to Annfield Plain, and Adam Maguire may not play this season after badly injuring his hand while fielding at Crook last season.
The new faces include Shaun Hauxwell, back after a season with Boldon, Pakistani Mirza Baig, who took 46 wickets for Easington in 2013, and Indian all-rounder Varunkumar Virani, who has played the last two seasons for Chopwell.
It’s one in and one out at Easington, with Baig’s departure offset by the arrival of Gary Ward from Horden, Tommy Nixon leads Boldon CA once more and has newcomers Chris Gardiner, Andy McCord and Hewitt at his disposal, while Hylton have an unchanged squad, with Alan Mustard at the helm again.
Dawdon are boosted by the acquisition of top all-rounder John Leslie from South Hetton, Marsden count Mark Woodhead and Ben Young among their new arrivals, Evenwood showcase big-hitting West Indian Tade Carmichael, and Mainsforth have re-signed Pakistani Mohammed Nawaz and hope to get a full season out of him alongside new boys Martin Lower and Gary Cummings, although Neil Pratt has now retired from playing to concentrate on his burgeoning umpiring career.
There have certainly been some changes at Horden, where skipper Carl Watson welcomes Sahil Madgaonkar from Mumbai as the new overseas interest.
He is joined by Stephen Brett (Eppleton), Connor Dickinson (Peterlee) and Wayne Birks (Blackhall), but there are also three major departures, with John Minnis returning to former club Ryhope, accompanied by Adrian Hedley and Paul Jenkins.
These signings will no doubt place Ryhope among the favourites for promotion from the Second Division, but Durham City will want a say in that.
It was a bit of a shock to the system to see City consigned to lower-tier cricket, but with Jake McCann now taking over the captaincy reins, and Aussie Nick Maiolo back for another season, a youthful and unchanged squad should have benefitted from last year’s experience.
Seaham Park are another team bristling with ambition.
Dave Hanson is back at the club and he has brought John Sample, Paul Smailes and Alex Ludlow with him.
Other new signings include Shaun Bradbury, and, with keeper Mark Race returning to the game, the signs look positive despite the fact that Ali Watson will miss the first month due to University commitments.
The mass migration to Seaham Park has left a four-man hole in the Murton team, but all-rounders Faisal Hussain and Aamer Mahfooz from Evenwood have signed, with feelers out for possible other arrivals in the next few days.
Colin Ede’s return to Castle Eden, Connor Dickinson’s move to Horden and Tom Nicholson’s transfer to South Hetton were a blow for Peterlee, but 20-year-old Aussie Chris Moran has arrived from Adelaide to bolster the Newtowners, while opening bat Jamie Kemp has joined from Sedgefield to help bridge the gap.
All-rounder Eddie Wood returns to cricket after two years of not playing, and with Phil Middlemiss fully recovered from an ankle injury which restricted his 2013 appearances it should be like two new players for Silksworth, who begin their campaign at Ushaw Moor.
Whiteleas are the odd team out this Saturday – their Second Division programme starts next week.
Meanwhile, back in the top flight, the eye-catching opening-day matches take place at Mainsforth, where Burnmoor are the visitors, and Bunker Hill, where Philadelphia will take on a strong Tudhoe outfi, whose batting line-up again looks formidable.