“The form of his life.” That’s the assessment of Chester-le-Street spokesman Tony Birbeck about the season being enjoyed by Simon Birtwisle.
And it’s hard to argue otherwise after a stupendous period in which the Cestrian legend scored three centuries in six days across three different formats.
Birtwisle is already assured of iconic status at Ropery Lane after a league career in which he has scored over 8,000 NEPL runs, one of only three players to have passed that milestone before the season began.
But six weeks into the new campaign he is already hitting the high spots as he leads the batting averages with 91.75 from seven innings, and a runs aggregate of 367, which is just 15 fewer than the top run scorer, Jacques du Toit. Add in cup-ties, and Birtwisle has 771 runs to his name.
The purple patch started on Bank Holiday Monday when Felling were dispatched from the Banks Salver, with an unbeaten 164 from 126 balls.
Five days later, he put the Stockton attack to the sword in a league game, with 150 not out from 157 balls, and then the very next day York were battered by Birtwisle in the National Club Cup as his 118 from 99 balls ensured safe passage into the group final.
Birtwisle also tops the league bowling averages, with 12 wickets at 5.75 runs apiece, and a best return of 4-1!
And the great thing for Chester is that Birtwisle’s success is going hand in hand with club success, the progress on the cup fronts accompanied by a 29-point lead at the top of the Premier Division.
Next up are Benwell Hill who entertain the Cestrians on Saturday.
The home team have recovered from the blip which saw them lose two successive matches when they had to play without the services of Pakistani Zohaib Khan and Durham player Jack Clark.
When both returned, Hill got back on track and they sit third in the table.
Khan has 295 runs and 12 wickets, while Clark is second behind Birtwisle with an average of 84.66.
Whitburn’s Dan Shurben joined Birtwisle in the exclusive 8,000 NEPL runs club when scoring his record 180 not out last week against Gateshead Fell. With his team now much more comfortably placed in the league after early struggles, they will be hungry for more success when they visit Stockton on Saturday.
With Ross Carty unavailable, Paul Shields comes in, but Paul Coughlin will not play.
Hetton Lyons are beginning to fret a bit. One of only two sides yet to taste success, they are just 13 points above a relegation place, and a weekend trip to Jesmond, where Newcastle are enjoying some fine form, will not be easy.
Lyons are unchanged, although this is likely to be leg-spinner Darrell Williams’ last game before he returns home to the West Midlands for the summer.
Newcastle show one change. with Seb Hatchett in for the working Callum Harding.