T20 drama to rival Ashes action at Ropery Lane

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IT’S all happening at Chester-le-Street in the next few days – and we’re not just talking about the Test match.

With the biggest international cricket event in the region’s history about to get underway, just a few hundred yards up the road at Ropery Lane, Chester-le-Street Cricket Club are preparing for a couple of important occasions which start with tonight’s Ashes warm-up game between the Barmy Army and the Aussie Fanaticals (5.30pm).

But the big occasion is Sunday’s area finals day of the ECB National T20 competition, which the Cestrians earned the right to host after winning the Premier League T20 last weekend.

This was the fourth time in the six years that Chester have come out on top, which gives them a perfect right to call themselves the league’s short format cup kings.

And they were convincing winners, too, defeating South North by four wickets last Friday night then hammering team of the year Stockton by 57 runs in Sunday’s final.

Chester will start this Sunday’s competition as heavy favourites given their pedigree.

The day was to originally involve four teams, but it will now only feature three following the surprise withdrawal of the Central Yorkshire League a few days ago.

This means each team will play the other two – if one team wins both matches they will progress to the final eight nationally, while if each team wins one game then run-rate will determine the qualifier.

The two other qualifiers are Great Ayton, from the NYSD League, and Salesbury, from the Ribblesdale League. Chester take on Ayton in the opener at 10am.

The second match is at 1pm, with the losers of the first match taking on Salesbury, with the final game at 4pm between Salesbury and the winners of the opener.

The end goal for all the teams is the finals day at the Kia Oval on Friday, September 13, when the event is broadcast live on Sky.

Chester have just one absentee, with skipper Quentin Hughes on holiday. John Coxon captains the side in his absence. with Stephen Cantwell likely to hold on to his place after a steady debut last week.

The T20 is Chester’s last route to glory this summer as they are now 99 points behind Stockton in the title race.

That will not take the edge off their game at Ashbrooke on Saturday, particularly with Sunderland becoming ever more desperate for points.

The Wearsiders have slipped down to ninth after winning just once in five games.

They will be missing three players, with Greg Davison, Danny Sanderson and Craig Burdon all unavailable, so in come Greg Applegarth, Tom Skilbeck and Paul Woolston.

Hetton Lyons are the latest team to try their luck against all-conquering Stockton, who look to be just a couple of wins away from taking the title for the first time.

Lyons go to Grangefield with Gary Scott once again doubtful because of injury.

He has a knee problem that may require rest. With Steven Errington also on the treatment table, the returns of Jonny Malkin and Martin Stephenson are timely, although Ryan Pringle is back with Durham.

Stockton’s only absentee will be Josh Bousfield, who is on England 12th man duty at the Test.

The big league game takes place at South Shields, where the winless home team take on the side now just three points behind them, Gateshead Fell.

Neither side can afford to lose. With their Premier Division future at stake, Shields are glad to welcome back Matty Muchall to lead the side, but Gordon Muchall is “unlikely” to be available to them as Durham Dynamos have a game up in Scotland on Sunday. Fell make one change, with David Daley coming in for Cameron Oliver.