WITH Hetton Lyons’ Dukes North East Premier League Premier Division title challenge gathering pace, Saturday’s home match against rivals Benwell Hill has assumed greater importance, with both of the sides desperate for the win which would mark them out as genuine contenders.
It is hard to bill the game as anything other than a battle of the Pakistani professionals, with Lyons’ Lal Kumar heading the league bowling averages after his scintillating performance last Saturday, and Hill’s Zohaib Khan topping the batting rankings.
Kumar’s outstanding spell of 8-4 against Durham Academy had an addendum attached to it.
The left armer had opened with over the wicket pace only to slip in the damp conditions and raise concerns about encroaching on the playing area in the follow through.
At that stage, Kumar had 0-4 and decided to switch around the wicket and turn to spin. The rest is history as he took eight wickets without conceding a further run, consigning the Academy to the lowest total in league history, a meagre 16.
Those wickets took Kumar to the top of the league averages where he now has 19 wickets at just 7.52 apiece, although the match analysis was not the best in Lyons’ Premier League history.
That record still belongs to Ryan Pringle, who took nine against Gateshead Fell last season. Lyons hope they will have Pringle’s services on Saturday, although, if he’s required in the Durham squad for their T20 game at Worcestershire, Cameron Grimwood will deputise.
The Lilywhite Terrace clash could provide another remarkable personal milestone, with Allan Worthy now just 52 runs shy of becoming the first player in the league’s history to score 9,000 runs.
He is the leading run scorer in the Premier Division, with 377 runs to date at an average of 54, and Gary Scott makes it two out of four for Lyons in terms of those players who currently have more than 300.
Benwell Hill star Khan tops those rankings as he averages 82 from his four innings to date. With 14 wickets also under his belt, he presents the major threat.
Table-toppers South North hold a 12-point lead over Lyons, and they will start their home game against struggling Newcastle as favourites to add to their sequence of wins, which would provide an opportunity for Whitburn to leapfrog the Tynesiders and put some clear blue water between themselves and the drop zone, as they have a home game against floundering Gateshead Fell.
In the battle of the bottom two, Fell will arrive at the Village Ground without a win to their name and 27 points adrift of their hosts.
They show just one change to the side that lost at Blaydon, with Michael Dicks replacing Andy Porter. Whitburn have Michael Bittlestone returning in place of Mark Elliott.
Chester-le-Street’s narrow defeat at home to York in the National Club Cup last weekend was a bitter blow to take, and they will need to pick themselves up as they set their sights on other targets.
Sunderland are the visitors to Ropery Lane on Saturday and they expect to have a much stronger team in the field this week, with Imran Shah and Ian Stephenson returning, and the prospect that Dan Wilkinson might be fit to play. They have a doubt over Simon Brown, who faces a late fitness test.
The second round of Co-operative Funeralcare T20 group games take place tomorrow night, with one or two tasty ties for supporters to savour.
The Cestrians go to Tynemouth, Whitburn are at Gateshead Fell, First Division Boldon entertain Sunderland and Hetton Lyons have a coloured clothing dress rehearsal for the big league game when they host Benwell Hill.