By Chris West
AFTER an epic close season, the new campaign gets underway this weekend.
It was not quite the winter of discontent, but certainly one where the normal order of things has been disturbed – that’s the view of seven months which have witnessed the long drawn out saga of who should replace relegated Marsden come down in favour of Kimblesworth.
Marsden then fought an eventually futile battle to join the Coast League, ending up in the County League, before the decision of Senior League clubs to undertake a feasibility study into a possible second division.
That latter issue is due for further clarification in late May, but on-field battle resumes on Saturday when champions Boldon entertain Eppleton, one of the teams tipped to be challenging for their title.
To add further interest to a fascinating opening encounter, Sura Malinga (pictured right) could well line up against his former colleagues after Eppleton had to switch their overseas intentions when their original target was called into the Pakistan one-day squad.
This opens up the fascinating possibility that ex-Hetton Lyons pro Malinga could win championships with three different teams in three successive seasons – but only if Eppleton emerge victorious.
Alongside the Sri Lankan will be four other newcomers Shaun Bradbury, also from Boldon, David Wilkinson (South Hetton) and Dave and Joe Kennedy from Norton. Going through the swing doors in the opposite direction are Paul Davidson (Burnmoor) and Carl Watson (Boldon CA).
Champions Boldon have not yet replaced Malinga, although they continue to work towards sourcing a replacement. Their one new face is Gary Frater from Boldon CA, while Andrew Doherty has moved on to Percy Main.
The addition of Davidson to the Burnmoor squad could prove significant, particularly if they can come up trumps with a new professional who they hope to announce shortly. Gary Brown will skipper a classy squad who should be there or thereabouts yet again.
Whitburn are hoping to improve on a disappointing 2010 – and they have two good reasons to be more optimistic with Neil Ayre, who missed much of last season, available for the full summer, and paceman Craig Smith, formerly of Benwell Hill and South North, likely to tickle a few ribs.
What of new boys Kimblesworth?
Some are suggesting the different tactics required in the Senior League will take some adjusting to by the former County League outfit, however that fails to recognise that they have some quality players, with the likes of skipper Paul Craig and Stephen Meek proven performers.
Western Australian all-rounder Sam MacPherson and Durham City’s former linchpin Mark Woodhead have strengthened their squad, ahead of a home opener against Teesside outfit Norton – less than two years ago the sides were two levels apart in the Durham pyramid.
Philadelphia also look capable of mounting a challenge to the established order following the signing of Sameera Vithana, a Sri Lankan with more than 100 first-class wickets to his name, and the return to the Bunker Hill fold of Neil Mulvaney, Tom Raine and David Craig.
And if enthusiasm is the yardstick of success then Mattie Haswell’s decision to travel each week from Canterbury to play deserves its rewards.
South Hetton have had some bad luck, with Fred Napier ruled out for the summer after a back operation. With Martin Stephenson not playing this year, and Gary Adey and David Wilkinson departed, they could find life tough. Sri Lankan Thilina Masmulla and former Durham City youngster Michael Took will help to fill the breach.
Elsewhere, Castle Eden have lost Calvin Stephenson to County League outfit Willington. With Tom Raine also gone, they are relieved that they should get a full season from Alan Unsworth.
Durham City have not managed to replace Woodhead or Took and have therefore limited their aspirations to mid-table security.
Horden will be led by Adrian Hedley and will parade two Newcastle students, Sumit Kharpude and Afzal Chouge, although Scott Birks and Lee Gilbert have moved on, while Felling will have a fully fit Chris Pleasants turning out again, alongside new signings Dan Pearson (Bill Quay) and Ben Young (Billingham).