WEEK three of the four-game Dukes North East Premier League First Division Mini League sees outright leaders South Hetton travelling to Willington, where victory will put them within touching distance of winning the one-off tournament.
While the competition might be a short one, it could be very sweet for South Hetton, and they should start Saturday’s match as favourites given that the home side have struggled to get anywhere near their acknowledged first team in the field to date.
After victories at Seaham Harbour and South Shields, when rain washed out three of the five-game programme, South Hetton are the only side with two victories to their name.
They have to make two enforced changes for this Saturday’s trip, with Daniel Stewart at a wedding and Tony Murphy doing the coast to coast bike ride, so in come two middle order batters, Alex Nicholson and Niall Heron.
Willington are starting to get their players back from their end-of-season football commitments, with Steve Alderson set to return and Michael Lunn coming in for his debut after making the move from the Darlington & District League.
If the weather holds, their new overseas man will get the chance to parade his skills for the first time.
Indian Gaurav Jathar, such a hit with Seaham Park in the Durham Cricket League last summer, arrived in the country in time for last week’s match but then had to sit it out with the rest when the match at Washington failed to beat the weather.
South Hetton’s six points sees them two in front of three teams with a four-point return – Boldon, Brandon and Washington.
All three sides won on the opening day but then were frustrated at missing out last week, and one of them will fall by the wayside this week as Boldon entertain Washington.
It’s a busy weekend for the Boldon boys as they face up to three games in three days, but at least there is no travelling involved as all three matches are at Sunderland Road.
Tomorrow night, the Durham Academy visit in the Profound DSL Trophy, with the Mini-League match against Washington followed on Sunday by a Banks Salver tie against South Shields.
The good news for Boldon is that their team is unchanged, so they are at full strength for the three-day marathon.
Seaham Harbour’s great win at Sacriston last Saturday has lifted spirits.
While there have been differing views over the value of the Mini League, Harbour’s cricket manager, Stuart Lacey, was keen to point out the advantages.
He said: “These Mini League games are good to get a look at other sides that we are going to meet in the league proper, and to see who their key players may be, as well as getting in some valuable match practice.”
Lacey is also positive about the progress the club is making, adding: “We decided to place an emphasis on youth this season and several of the older players have either stepped down into the seconds or retired.
“We are also very fortunate to have signed former Durham all-rounder Ian Pattison, who joins his brother, Stuart, at the club.
“Ian has had many successful seasons with Swalwell since leaving the county scene and we hope his experience, along with Shoaib Akhtar’s powerful hitting, can compliment the strengths of our younger first-teamers.”
Harbour get the chance to halt the progress of Brandon and keep their own chances alive until the final set of pre-season games, and the visitors will be missing Andy Walker, who is out for three to four weeks with a pulled groin.
Stephen Parnaby is back after the end of his football commitments.
Sacriston make just one change for the trip to Felling, with young seamer Dan Stephenson being handed a chance, while South Shields promote Adam Shaw and Connor Brydon in place of Mark Appleton and Robin Hagan for the home game against Eppleton.
In other Banks Salver matches on Sunday, Seaham Harbour visit Jesmond to tackle Newcastle and Sacriston entertain Brandon.