IT may have taken a little time to warm up – the league and the weather – but Saturday promises to provide the first big clash of the summer when Dukes North East Premier League First Division leaders Whitburn visit second-placed Brandon.
With only 18 league matches to play in the 10-team division, the league started late and clubs have taken some time to settle into their new surroundings as they have weighed up both the format and opposition.
But with just 13 games to go, every match now takes on significance for those with designs on the title and probable promotion to the top flight of regional cricket.
No team appears to be more ambitious than Brandon, gauging by their close-season signings, and their undefeated start was given impetus by their nine-wicket mauling of Seaham Harbour last week, just 24 hours after the Harbour had pulled off a sensational T20 victory at Chester-le-Street.
That Brandon victory was inspired by a Karl Turner century, form that earned the former Notts man a late call-up to an injury-hit Durham second team in their game at Brandon earlier this week.
Turner should be available to face Whitburn, however Ruel Brathwaite is definitely out, the big man sidelined by a hamstring injury. With Jorden Grosert and Matthew Whaley both missing because of school commitments, the depth of the Brandon squad is likely to be tested for the first time.
Whitburn have announced just one change, and it is one that puts them at full strength for the crucial game, with Neil Johnson being declared fit.
Despite suggestions that Johnson’s calf injury would be risked in last week’s game, discretion eventually proved to be the better part of valour and he was given a further week to recover, something that could produce major dividends in this crucial clash.
The two leading sides enjoy unbeaten records to date, and the only other team who can still say that are Sacriston – although they have also yet to win a game, despite coming close on several occasions.
But they will start Saturday’s home game against Felling as clear favourites to at last put a tick in the wins column as the Gateshead outfit slipped into the bottom two after their mauling at the hands of South Hetton last time out.
Sacriston make just one change, with Peter Scaife in for Callum Appleby, the club rotating the slot left by Simon Moralee’s continued work commitments.
Seaham Harbour could be on the verge of putting out their best team when they entertain unchanged South Hetton, who are happy with life at the moment.
Neil McKinney, Peter Hambleton and Jack Lacey all return after missing last week, while skipper Stuart Lacey may be reaching the stage where he is declared fit again after a recent neck operation.
Their major doubt is over the fitness of Shaun McKenna, whose back injury will be assessed nearer the game.
Boldon, bolstered by their first victory which lifted them off the foot of the table and coincided with the return to the club of Matthew Sampson-Barnes, entertain a Washington team who include the returning Jak Gaff. Eppleton travel to Willington with just one enforced change to the side that was beaten by Boldon.