Readers Durham Cricket League
The fine margins between success and failure were never more apparent than in the thrilling game between Esh Winning and Philadelphia last week in the Readers Durham Cricket League.
The match ended with the leaders pulling off a victory that had looked well beyond them for most of the second innings.
A stunning flying catch by the keeper claimed the last wicket to give Esh victory by just three runs – if he’d missed it then Phili would have been the winners as it would have flown for the four runs they needed.
“It’s one of the best keeping catches I’ve ever seen,” said experienced Esh skipper Dave Lawlor.
“With Paul Chivers bowling, I thought it was more likely the No11 would nick it having a flash rather than cover drive it.
“Because of that I’d put the spare fielder on the third man boundary, but he’d still have been unable to stop it given the pace it was going before our keeper plucked it out of the air.”
Obviously delighted by the win which preserved his team’s unbeaten record, Lawlor still had time to heap praise on Phili for their part in a great game.
He added: “In the past, I’ve been critical of the points system in the league which, in my opinion, encourages teams to play defensively, but when the game’s played the way it’s meant to be played, then the system helps to produce games like last Saturday.
“All credit to Philadelphia – we set what we thought was a decent target and declared after 45 overs, but they were romping home with some really attacking play and looked absolute certainties to win until just before the end.”
The game showcased the batting skills of a relatively new player for the Bunker Hill boys, his top-scoring innings against Esh exciting Phili chairman Malcolm Pratt.
“We have made a real find in Paul Hollinshead, who has moved up from the South,” he enthused.
“An excellent batsman, he made 95 against Esh Winning and looks a very good player.”
But despite all the plaudits coming Phili’s way, the agonising defeat finally ended any lingering title ambitions as it left them 76 points behind their conquerors.
They should have a less testing day on Saturday when they entertain a Boldon CA side whose main ambition is just to get through the season, a target that everyone hopes they will achieve.
Phili have to reckon without Mattie Noble for this one, but a decision has not been on his replacement as yet.
Meanwhile, Esh go to Castle Eden, who have suffered three consecutive defeats, a run that also sees them with little hope of challenging for the championship in the final eight games of the season.
With opening batsman Michael Oughton still on holiday, Esh stick with the same line-up who snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.
Elsewhere in the top flight, Dawdon skipper Stephen Gale is back and replaces his brother Anthony, who stood in for him last week.
The second-placed side, 18 points behind Esh, have a home game against relegation threatened Bill Quay.
And Horden will be at full strength when they tackle unbeaten Mainsforth, with Connor Dickinson, Matthew Billyard and Shaun Bradbury all set to play.
In Division Two, it really does seem just a case of dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s for Seaham Park as they look to have burned off most of the opposition.
The one team that could possibly threaten their title hopes is Burnopfield, but they sit this Saturday out, and with the Park at Littletown, it looks odds on them significantly stretching their 31 point lead over the second-placed side.
Their hosts have made a good fist of their first year at this level, and have only lost on three occasions, but with Park having won nine and drawn one of their last 10 matches, they could not be in more positive mood, despite leading all-rounder John Sample’s reticence to count any chickens.
“Although we have a good advantage at the top, lots of teams will still be eyeing up a late charge for the promotion spots,” said Sample.
“We are taking nothing for granted and look to keep up our momentum.
“We are also going well in the cups and have made it to the league cup final, plus we remain unbeaten in the 15 over competition, so there is still plenty to play for on many fronts.”
While a final team hasn’t been announced, the known absences are Mike McNicholas and Sample himself.
In addition, there is a doubt over Jimmy Taylor, who went over on his ankle during last week’s warm-up before the game.
In other second tier news, Peterlee, with just one defeat in their last seven outings, have Andrew Bates returning in place of the unavailable David Craig when they entertain struggling Houghton.
Ryhope are unchanged when they take on another struggler, Langley Park, and at the moment, Silksworth have one in and one out when they go to Evenwood.
Adam Fairley returns and Johnny Hayes is out.
And it’s the last chance saloon for both Marsden and Whiteleas when they meet in a little neighbourly affair at Jack Clark Park.
Defeat will end all notions of a late promotion challenge, victory will keep the flame flickering.
Marsden have to cope without the services of Mark Woodhead for a month as he has returned home to Australia, but Mark Symington and Paul Hobson are available again. Paul Snaith is handed an opportunity after doing well in the seconds.
Leas have Lee Gilbert and Andrew Potts returning to their dressing room, although Steve Martin is away.