Readers Durham Cricket League by Chris West
AFTER all the hullabaloo of the last couple of years, the long awaited dawn of a new era in club cricket in the region has arrived with the Durham Cricket League opening its playing doors for the very first time this weekend.
The talking will have to stop and the cricket start when the 26 clubs, gathered together primarily from the old Durham Senior, Coast, and County leagues, will join battle for the very first time.
The teams will play each other once and at the end of the season, the top 14 will form a new first division, with the bottom 12 making up a second division.
In this inaugural campaign, there is likely to be a mix of playing levels as the clubs sort out the future pecking order, but with all three champion clubs from the old leagues thrown together, there is likely to be some extremely competitive cricket.
Whilst virtually every club says their primary goal is a top 14 finish, once the season unfolds the first ever championship title will become a prize that many will covet.
In terms of searching for favourites, it is hard to look beyond Senior League champions Burnmoor.
Skippered once more by Alec Linsley, the club have retained the services of South African quickie Brandon Scullard, and have signed former Hetton Lyons batter Paul Riddle.
Fitness issues mean Gary Brown will only play in emergencies, one of which has already arrived after Owen Lancaster fractured his ankle playing football.
Castle Eden were the main threat to Burnmoor in the rain raddled 2012 season, but they have lost the highly successful Indian, Swaru Purkayastha.
Although, plugging the considerable gap with Pakistani all-rounder Kamran Shah who played the last two season at Hetton Lyons.
Other than that John Spellman has an unchanged squad at his disposal.
Captained by Shaun Smith, Philadelphia have signalled their intent to be a force again with the signings of David Baxter and Gary Innes (both Burnopfield), along with Lee Innes and Anthony Hornby (both Chopwell).
Shaun Hauxwell has moved to pastures new, but he is the only loss for a club whose ground was looking splendid earlier this week.
Durham City ended last year in mid-table and their squad is largely unchanged, the only newcomer being 18-year-old Aussie Nick Maiolo, an all-rounder from Perth.
The youngster may well have passed Kyle Armstrong going the other way – he is the only absentee after departing to Australia for work and holiday.
Horden will be captained by Carl Watson, a new signing from Boldon CA, and he has Scott Birks and Lee Gilbert to call upon after their return to the club.
The South Durham side have not engaged a ‘pro’ following Masood Mirza’s departure, and others moving on include Palav Kumar and Anthony Peace.
Marsden skipper Chris Mann says the place is ‘buzzing’ following the addition of new training facilities and an extension to the social area of the clubhouse.
With all players having been retained, Paul Hobson fully fit after a three year injury nightmare, and South African opening-bowler Zakhele Ncube already here, his boys are champing at the bit.
2012 Coast League champions Murton, have seen a few changes over the last few months, with Mark Race and Lee Gilbert moving on, but Alex Ludlow and Paul Smailes arriving.
There is doubt about the level of availability of Andrew Docherty, Richard Lowes and Richard Bentley for various reasons, but with Dave Hanson at the helm again, and Jon Sample retained, a top half finish is definitely the minimum aim.
Dawdon finished runners-up to Murton last time out, and they will be little changed with Mark Race joining skipper Umar Akhtar as the new faces, and Craig Stephenson and Cavan McNicholas the only departures.
The Akhtar and McNicholas “exchange” is just one of a number of comings and goings at Seaham Park.
The marquee signing being Indian Parvez Aziz, an all-rounder with more than 50 first-class games under his belt.
Returning to the Park are Tom Ritches and Alistair Watson.
Hylton will be led by the vastly experienced Alan Mustard, his name the only change to the teamsheet from last season.
Ryhope have Danny Douglas returning to the club, and ex-Phili spinner Connor Cheal plays again after a spell out of the game.
Kamran Mansoor should inspire Easington if his former exploits at the Park are anything to go by, but with Mark Cowell, Ben Wicling and Ali Watson all gone, he may have a lot on his shoulders to earn his new team a top 14 slot.
One club probably not expecting too much are Peterlee.
Following the loss of ‘pro’ Glen Riddle they have just one new player in their ranks, Colin Ede.
Boldon CA have an exciting new face in their line-up.
West Indian Alvenis Simon, an off-spinning all-rounder from St Lucia, has arrived, and with another all-rounder, Anthony Brown, having been signed from neighbours Boldon, and impressed in warm up games.
Skipper Tommy Nixon is positive about his side’s prospects.
Silksworth have gone for experience to lead them following Paul Smailes’ departure to Murton, and veteran Steve Hutchinson will have new boys Adam Fairley and Paul Howe at his disposal to strengthen the batting ranks.
Bill Quay have their first ever overseas professional, Zimbabwean Deven Bell, joining John Newstead, David and Michael Townes in freshening up a squad who disappointed last year.
The only team not from the old Senior, County and Coast set-ups is Whiteleas.
They arrive as somewhat of an unknown quantity having earned their “promotion” as NE Durham League champions. But they have signalled their powerful intent by bringing in 19-year-old Indian Sunzow Brahma to spearhead their challenge.
Kris McShane, Michael Dunn, Rob Scorer and Craig Jones have all joined from South Shields.
What of Kimblesworth, the 2011 Senior League champions?
They have five new faces with Jason Winn, Lee Wright, Danny Wilkinson (all Langley Park), John Lane (Ushaw Moor) and Colin Myers on board,.
Craig Burke has moved to Blaydon and Adam Morton is not playing this season.
The rest of the 26 is made up of former County League teams, the most notable being the champions Esh Winning, although they have lost the services of John Carmedy and Eddie Watson.
Pakistani Jalat Khan has a decent first-class record and could prove a solid replacement for Yasim Murtaza, who excelled in his time at Esh.
Of the others, Tudhoe’s West Indian Shawn Findlay will no doubt inspire his team again.
Crook’s new Aussie, David Embleton, joins a decent squad.
Mainsforth appear to have strengthened considerably with 19-year-old Pakistani all-rounder Muhammad Nawaz one of six arrivals, the most notable being Neil Pratt.