WITH the major issues all but decided, the closing three weeks of the Dukes North East Premier League Premier Division season offer the chance for players to enhance their personal records and aim for key milestones.
Saturday’s game between champions-elect South North and struggling visitors Sunderland offers a clear indication of just why the teams are where they currently are.
The Bulls are 47 points clear of the only team that can catch them, Hetton Lyons, and another victory on Saturday could well see them celebrating championship success with two games to go.
Jonny Wightman is the leading wicket-taker in the league by some distance, and he has already reached the milestone of 50 wickets.
Also in the top 10 are the evergreen Lee Crozier and Dave Rutherford, while Stephen Humble is 13th. Between them, these four bowlers have collected 143 victims.
In stark contrast, Sunderland’s leading wicket-taker is James Davies with 17, but not one other player is in double figures.
And there’s a similar tale to tell in the batting stats. South North have four batsmen in the top 25 run-makers, Karl Turner heading the list with 670, while Chris Peareth is the only one appearing for the Wearsiders, his 349 runs being almost double the next player in the Sunderland rankings.
Ominously for the Wearsiders, South North are back up to full strength with the return of Adam Heather, who replaces Andrew Doig, although Sunderland do have Chris Watson, James Davies, Imran Shah and Mattie Dench returning to bolster their cause.
Whatever the result, Sunderland should be safe from the threat of relegation as Gateshead Fell are 33 points behind them and they have an equally difficult match this week when the play the Lyons.
Hetton’s strong suit is in the batting, with Gary Scott’s 720 runs heading a trio of players in the top 13 run-scorers. Lal Kumar is one of those and he also has an impressive 43 wickets to his credit.
Despite a record which anchors them to the foot of the table, and which shows just one win all season, the Fell have a star in their midst in the shape of Adam Whatley, the dashing Aussie having amassed 600 runs with only two players in the whole league enjoying a better strike rate than him.
The Fell are unchanged for this match, while hosts Hetton have Shaun Birbeck returning from his work commitments, and Sean Tindale recovered from a back injury, although Allan Worthy is unavailable.
Chester-le-Street’s Andrew Smith has enjoyed an outstanding season, and he stands second in the run-scorers’ rankings, with 750 to his name, and top man Jacques du Toit (825 runs) remains within range.
The Cestrians entertain Durham Academy this weekend and have Quentin Hughes back from holiday.
Both Max Morley and David Foster have left the club following their release by Durham, so second team skipper and left-arm spinner Chris Metcalfe could be called up.
Chris Youldon faces a late test on an injured ankle. If he does not make it, Chris Martin will keep wicket.
Meanwhile, Paul Coughlin is unlikely to feature for Whitburn because of Durham commitments.
If that’s the case, Luke Smith will replace him for the home game against unchanged Tynemouth, who include David Hymers. He is second to Wightman in the wicket-taking stakes and with the 50 milestone in his sights for the season – he needs seven more.