THE frustrations of a weather-beaten programme were felt more acutely by the two teams competing at Ropery Lane last Saturday than elsewhere.
Chester-le-Street, having won convincingly on the opening day, were looking to ram home their early advantage, while the five points Whitburn collected from a day of inactivity left them dangling over the early-season danger zone, with just Gateshead Fell keeping them out of the relegation slot.
While there was only one winner on the rain-raddled day, every other game saw much more play than the paltry three overs that were possible at Chester, with the consequence that all the other teams involved in drawn matches gained a useful advantage.
The Cestrians remain on top of the table, but their hard-earned and clear lead over many of the sides below them has been whittled down to a handful of points, and this Saturday’s programme will be almost like starting from scratch again.
Chester go to Wood Terrace, where South Shields have made a decent enough start to their top-flight return, with Gordon Muchall and Tim David scoring plenty of early-season runs, and the returning Rob Gibson and Liam Dixon also shining.
Chester-le-Street are hoping to be able to put out the same side that they had in the field last Saturday, their only doubt surrounding the fitness of Mark Turner, who tweaked a hamstring in the National Club Championship win over Harrogate on Sunday.
Shields have to reckon without Rob Gibson, who has university commitments, but Michael Dunn makes a timely return after overcoming a niggling injury.
Whitburn suffered an early exit from the national competition, going down by 70 runs at Stockton, so they need to pick themselves up for their home game against a Benwell Hill side who look like providing a real test.
Hill sit fourth in the crowded top-of-the-table grouping, and have last year’s top league all-rounder in their ranks, in the shape of Pakistani Zohaib Khan, who is back for his seventh consecutive summer at Denton Bank.
Durham’s Paul Coughlin is only regarded as 50/50 for this weekend, so the likelihood is that Ian Elliott will play instead and, with Craig Smith and Kieran Waterson still missing, bowling resources are stretched at the moment.
There is also a change behind the stumps, with Paul Shields stepping up to replace the unavailable Ross Carty.
Durham Academy manager John Windows was delighted with his team’s performance at Roseworth Terrace last week, despite the weather denying his youngsters the chance of a famous victory over champions South Northumberland.
Gavin Main and Asher Hart snapped up six wickets between them, with the Bulls reeling on 77-6 in pursuit of a target of 156.
While, admittedly, overs pressure had a bearing on the final state of the game, the signs have all been positive in the opening weeks.
But another real test awaits them on Saturday when they entertain Newcastle at the Emirates ICG, the Tynesiders having moved up to second in the table, one point behind Chester, after their impressive display at Stockton, when Graham Clark hit a 55-ball century to win the match.
The Academy hope to field the same side, but their opponents make two changes with Dimi Ratnayake tied up by academic commitments and Sameer Haque also missing out.
In come Tom Berzins and Callum Harding.
Hetton Lyons will look to hand Stockton another defeat when they meet at Lilywhite Terrace.
Sunday sees the opening round of the Banks Salver taking place, with Chester-le-Street at home to Stockton, Hetton Lyons travelling to Denefield to take on Blaydon, and Whitburn facing South Shields.