With the race for the inaugural Durham Cricket League title almost exclusively the preserve of County League champions Esh Winning and Senior League champions Burnmoor, the other title-holders, who were thrown into the three-league mix are not faring so well.
Murton entered the new competition with high hopes after winning the final Coast League title, to make it six championships in ten years, and they made a decent enough start with four wins in their first eight games.
But since then, a sequence of eight matches without a win, including seven defeats, has left them out of contention for a top 14 finish.
They are currently 78 points adrift of the 14th club in the table, so they are almost certain to be playing in the fourth tier of regional cricket next summer.
Murton spokesman Ian Graham was realistic about his team’s performance to date: “Yes, this season has been disappointing.”
“Over the past several weeks, we just can’t seem to find a win, although everyone has given 100 per cent.
“Obviously, the new league has brought many new challenges and we have come up against new and different players – overseas ‘pros’ for example – and new teams and venues which we have not been used to.
“I think also, one of the reasons we have struggled is down to not having a settled side as, for one reason or another, whether it be holidays or injury and illness, we always seem to be missing at least one key player every week.
“We are hoping that with the continued effort of everybody, we can pick up again on the run-in to the end of the season and improve our position.”
That process begins on Saturday with a home game against Crook Town, another team who hasn’t done as well as originally expected, and who lie just one place above Murton.
Although, their form has picked up in recent weeks with a four game unbeaten run, and wins in each of their last two games.
The home team have to cope with the continued absence of broken wrist victim Graeme Robson, and with Alan Welburn away Jonathan Seed’s return is timely.
The mystical points system, which continues to baffle most officials, players and scorers, unless they are in possession of a first class honours degree in applied mathematics, left last week’s table showing Burnmoor three points adrift of table–toppers Esh Winning.
But another point has been conjured up since last week’s results and the Moor are now just two points behind.
But they have perhaps the toughest assignment of the leading pair, as they face a trip to Boldon CA, whilst rivals Esh are at Shildon.
CA went down to the leaders last week, but with depleted playing resources.
Those are set to be replenished with the return of Ian Male and Stephen Martin, although the Moor are also stronger with both Karl Bellerby and Paul Davidson back.
Ben Muir’s early return to Australia will be a big loss for Hylton.
The leg-spinner really impressed in his short time at the club and they are already thinking along the lines of trying to get him back next year.
His time at the club coincided with a super run of form, in which they won five out of seven, but they will be tested on Saturday when third-placed Castle Eden are the visitors.
Hylton have deferred selection, while Castle have to reckon without Alan Unsworth – Richie McGlasham is promoted.
Philadelphia will come up against a new face when they go to Mainsforth.
The home club have shipped in a replacement for Pakistani Muhammad Nawaz, who signed off with a blistering 140 last weekend before flying home to team up with his country’s under-23 squad.
The new man is another Pakistani, Adeel Malik, a leg-spinning all-rounder who has played some first-class cricket, although his last game at that level was three years ago.
He had been ‘pro-ing’ in the Bolton League, but an injured knee meant he was sidelined for several weeks and subsequently replaced.
Easington’s slip in form, which has seen them lose two and draw one of their last four games, after an unbeaten start to life in the new league, means any lingering hopes of title glory have now realistically gone, but the return to action last week of Michael Robson has lifted spirits in the camp.
He played his first game for two years after recovering from a torn bicep, and his bowling skills will be a welcome addition to a team missing Jason Moses and Andrew Price this weekend.
Johnny Archer, who has been scoring plenty of runs in the seconds, is the other player handed an opportunity against visiting Evenwood.
In other team news, Dawdon have a full squad available for the trip to Peterlee.
Alex Catcherside replaces Mickey Thorpe who has tennis coaching duties for the next two weeks and so misses Ryhope’s home game against in-form Tudhoe.
Seaham Park skipper Mick McNicholas should face Silksworth.
Nick Howe and Paul Moralee feature for Durham at Langley Park, and Kimblesworth have two Aussies in the team when they take on Whiteleas.
Colin Myers has recovered from his jaw injury and Mark Woodhead is set to follow up his recent debut.
The Leas are able to include the returning Scott Oliver and Ryan Hale, although, opening bowler Rob Scorer is on holiday.