Smith back for Phili fliers

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PHILADELPHIA are delighted with their positive start to life in the new Readers Durham Cricket League which sees them take an undefeated record into Saturday’s home game against Bill Quay.

While two of their three matches have ended in draws, the fact that the fixture list gave them arguably the most difficult start of all 26 teams by pitching them against last year’s Senior League champions and runners-up, as well as against a decent former County League side, makes them confident they can build on the solid platform they have given themselves.

Adding to that confidence is the impact their close-season signings have made, with brothers Gary and Lee Innes, along with David Baxter and Andrew Hornby, all making their presence felt and turning in some outstanding performances.

Impressively, Lee Innes started off with 94 against Castle Eden, followed up with 75 against Burnmoor, then posted an unbeaten 37 on Monday to take his league average to an impressive 103.

Skipper Shaun Smith is back this week, with vice-captain Stephen Robinson happy enough to hand the reins back despite the fact that the stand-in captaincy role seems to have suited him – he took six wickets in his first ever game in charge.

Phili will start favourites as Bill Quay have suffered a torrid start to life in their new surroundings with three straight defeats anchoring them to the foot of the table.

But Quay’s spirits may be lifted by the fact they have current Zimbabwean Under-19 international Deven Bell back in the side – he is the first professional in the club’s 147-year history. Nathan Drury and Michael Turns also return, so Quay should be at optimum strength.

The early leaders are Esh Winning, who hold a one-point advantage over Easington.

And the top two look to have tough games this weekend, with the intriguing prospect of County League champions Esh Winning taking on Coast League title holders Murton, and Easington having to travel to Tudhoe to face their run-making machines.

Esh will almost certainly be in the title shakedown at the end of the season, but they have a couple of absentees this week with Paul Chivers and Michael Robson enjoying a stag weekend. New signing Chris Mulcurran will make his debut, while Chris Dodds has been plucked from retirement to play again.

The main danger to undefeated Murton will come from Esh’s new overseas pro. Jalat Khan had a tough job in having to follow the successful Yasim Murtaza, but early reports indicate he is even better than his predecessor, as figures of six wickets for eight runs on Monday would suggest, alongside his powerful batting ability.

With Gary Stokoe away, Murton are pleased to be able to include James Watson after the completion of his footballing commitments.

What Khan has done for Esh, Kamran Mansoor has done for Easington and he is in an unchanged team at Tudhoe, whp have smashed just shy of 800 runs in their first three games.

Young Dan Hardaker has only batted in two of those, but both trips to the crease resulted in undefeated centuries and an aggregate of 272.

Burnmoor and Castle Eden sit third and fourth respectively, and both enjoy home advantage this weekend against teams they will be expected to beat.

Moor are starting to get their heads around how to play the intricate points system that has caused numerous furrowed brows in the opening weeks. They will almost certainly bat if they win the toss against struggling Silksworth, who have lost all three games so far. Burnmoor field the same side who walloped Crook.

Castle Eden entertain a faltering Seaham Park, who have also tasted defeat in all of their opening games.

Park have already used 18 players, and with Thomas Ferguson, Alistair Watson, and James Ferguson all tied up with university commitments the situation does not look like easing any time soon.

Dawdon are currently where they aimed to be – in a crucial top-14 slot – and they have keeper Mark Race returning for the home match with Horden, who are able to include Lee Gilbert.

Ryhope have some injury problems to contend with. Luke Anderson has damaged ankle ligaments and will be out for around a fortnight, while Ant Kirtley has a broken finger and will probably miss a couple of months.

They are replaced by Dan Douglas and Dave Gilbert in the team to face Langley Park.

Hylton are missing Chris Allan, Darren Walton and Liam Foster – three of their top five batsmen – and have deferred selection of replacements for the trip to former County League club Shildon Railway.

Whiteleas await news of Sunzow Brahma’s estimated date of arrival, but they will face Mainsforth’s new overseas man Muhammad Nawaz, who makes his debut, on Saturday. Marsden select Paul Carr and Lee Bays to replace the unavailable Mark Symington and Ryan Little for their trip to Durham City.