They don’t come much tougher in cricket terms than the weekend Whitburn are about to face, with the newly-promoted Dukes ECB NEPL Premier Division club set for two tremendous home matches.
Tomorrow night they entertain NEPL powerhouse South North in the Co-operative funeralcare T20 quarter-finals, and then on Saturday they welcome reigning champions Stockton to East Street as clubs begin the second half of their league fixtures.
Despite having won just twice in the league, Whitburn are satisfied with their progress in the rarified atmosphere of the Premier Division.
Their pre-season target was a simple one – cement their position in the top flight which would then enable them to continue to build on a long term plan to expand and develop the club at all levels.
Barring any second half of the season disasters, they look certain to retain their place at the top table as they currently enjoy a 47 point margin of safety over a struggling Gateshead Fell side who, even at this early stage, look destined to be relegated.
On the cup front, Whitburn topped their group to qualify for the T20 quarter-finals, but the Bulls will be desperate to win and reach the finals day which carries ultimate qualification for the last 32 of the national T20, although they do have an injury doubt over Jimmy Miller.
Stockton have it all to do if they are to retain their title, but with Keaton Jennings named in their side, Jamie Harrison also possibly playing as he continues his recovery from injury, and a third Durham player, Josh Bousfield, just beginning to bowl again after a long recuperation period from a side strain, the Teessiders will almost be at full strength, their only absentee being skipper Kevin Ward.
Hetton Lyons are also in T20 action tomorrow with their last-eight match being a home game against the Durham Academy.
They then follow that up with another game at Lilywhite Terrace on Saturday, when they entertain Chester-le-Street in yet another crucial league match as they continue their quest for a first ever title.
When the pair met on the opening day of the season, the Lyons got the better of a draw and exposed a problem that has haunted the Cestrians ever since then – their inability to bowl sides out.
Back on that cold April day, Hetton racked up 249-4, and whilst Chester have only lost one game all summer, the fact they have won just two highlights their problem area.
They do have Max Morley in as their Durham player for this one, whilst Lyons expect to be unchanged from the side that defeated Stockton last time out.
Ryan Pringle will play on Saturday, although he does miss tomorrow night’s cup game.
A Wear-Tyne derby looms for struggling Sunderland on Saturday when they entertain Newcastle, and if results to date are anything to go by, this should be an evenly matched contest.
The teams are locked together on 85 points, and both are in a desperate run of form.
Sunderland have lost four in a row, whilst Newcastle haven’t won since April, and, of course, the pair shared a blockbuster of an opening day match when over 650 runs were scored at Jesmond, with the Wearsiders recording a famous victory.
It is unlikely that there will be another run fest, but both sides will view the match as winnable and the chance to banish any gathering relegation concerns.
Sunderland will be missing Chris Peareth and Simon Brown through injury, whilst both Chris Watson and Chris Dorothy are unavailable.
However, Matthew Dowell does return and the Ashbrooke outfit and expect Usman Arshad to be available for this one.