CHESTER-LE-STREET are back home.
Their nomadic existence comes to a welcome end tomorrow night when Ropery Lane hosts its first match of the Dukes North East Premier League Premier Division season in the Co-operative Funeralcare T20.
On Saturday, the first day of June, Newcastle become the first league visitors to end a difficult period for the Cestrians.
Chester’s well intentioned plans to relay their outfield last autumn were severely hampered by the freak weather suffered in September and October, when the ground should have been bedding down.
The sub-zero temperatures endured throughout March and into April, the prime growing season, meant significant remedial work was required to get to this stage.
Club spokesman Tony Birbeck recognises that there is still work to do, but he is delighted that cricket is returning to the Lane. He told the Echo: “The outfield is not exactly where we need it to be, but groundsman Duncan Carr has worked tirelessly to get it looking half decent. It’s a great weekend for Chester to have cricket back at Ropery Lane.”
It’s also a big weekend for the team itself. Following the T20 against Seaham Harbour tomorrow, the league match has taken on real meaning after the Cestrians signalled a return to their best form with a convincing victory over potential challengers Blaydon last time out, and they go back to Denefield on Sunday in the group semi-final of the national knockout cup.
Chester’s line-up is taking on a settled look and there are not expected to be any changes, so the experienced Simon Birtwisle will get a chance to add to his impressive batting form this term, enjoying a splendid average of 84.
Not only has Birtwisle done it in the league, but he has also excelled in the cups and needs just seven more runs to reach 500 for the season. If those runs come tomorrow, he will have topped 500 before May was out.
Newcastle make just one change, with James Davidson returning as Ben Marsh makes way. Their key player is former Leicestershire man Jacques Du Toit, although he has struggled a little since his opening-day one-man rout of Blaydon.
Sunderland play their first game in their T20 group at Washington tomorrow, still on a high after bouncing back to form with their astonishing league defeat of South North last week.
Mitch Claydon’s expected return for Saturday’s trip to Hetton Lyons on Saturday is a major boost.
With Simon Brown and Greg Davison returning, Sunderland are at full strength but will be sure to be tested by a Lyons team in fine form themselves.
After two successive bank holiday victories over Durham Academy, with Pakistani Lal Kumar excelling in both matches, Hetton are in fine spirits and sit just one place below Sunderland in fourth spot.
They only have one doubt for Saturday’s derby, but it could be a key one as they wait on news of star man Ryan Pringle’s commitments with Durham.
South Shields’ parlous position at the foot of the table means their trip to Benwell Hill is already regarded as being in the crucial bracket, so the news that New Zealand international Tom Latham has joined up with the club following the conclusion of the Test series against England is a major boost.
The 21-year-old Canterbury Kiwi has featured in 8 one day internationals and has experience of the league, having previously played for Gateshead Fell in 2010 when he scored 1,200 runs as a relative youngster. The left-handed batsman’s first job will be to re-energise a club sapped by the disappointing defeat at the hands of Tynemouth last week that dumped them on the bottom.
Elsewhere, Durham Academy visit Stockton, Gateshead Fell host Tynemouth and South North look to regain winning ways at home to Blaydon.