Dukes North East Premier League preview

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THE Co-operative funeralcare Twenty20 competition reaches its climax on Sunday when Benwell Hill host a finals day packed with three matches.

Premier League sides played in two groups of six teams to decide the four semi-finalists, and the action gets under way at Denton bank at 11am with the first semi between South North and Durham Academy.

That is followed by Chester-le-Street’s clash with host club Benwell Hill at 2pm, with the final scheduled for a 5.30 start.

League chairman Keith Robson is looking forward to an exciting day, saying: “Our clubs have embraced this competition since we introduced it, and they continue the development of the T20 game.

“In our region, 20-over cricket has been played for the best part of a century and the growth of T20 has provided excellent entertainment at our grounds with good, exciting cricket.

“The league are grateful to the committee at Benwell Hill for the work they’ve done behind the scenes and we look forward to a fun, exciting day.”

As well as the action on the field, supporters will be entertained by music, a barbecue and a beer tent.

Chester-le-Street are confident they have the team to do well on the day and regain the T20 crown they last won in 2009.

Club spokesman Tony Birbeck remarked: “We have a number of potential match-winners, people who can change the course of a match quickly.

“Andrew Smith has hit form with the bat, and we bat a long way down with Liam Simpson, Ian Hunter, Andrew Tye and Andrew Bell all capable of quick runs and tight bowling. And Richard Waite is destructive in this kind of cricket, while skipper Quentin Hughes’s bowling is effective.”

The Cestrians are at full strength for the weekend, which starts with a league trip to face Sunderland at Ashbrooke on Saturday, with Simon Birtwisle likely to be fit after recovering from a back spasm.

Sunday’s opponents, Benwell Hill, will be missing Dan Young and Mark Dale, who will be on Minor Counties duty with Northumberland.

The county players at South North have opted to play for the club, so their only absentee will be Michael Craigs.

Durham Academy will have to do without Rami Singh, who is in the England Under-19 squad this weekend, while Jamie Harrison has suffered a recurrence of the shin problems that have blighted much of his campaign. On the positive side, the destructive Ben Raine will play despite being in Durham’s first-team squad this week.

The tantalising prize for the T20 winners is qualification for the national rounds of the ECB T20 Club Cup, with Sunday’s winner advancing to play Guisborough or York on August 14, the ultimate aim being the national finals day at Chelmsford in September, an event televised live on Sky.

Apart from Sunderland’s clash with Chester, Saturday’s league matches see Hetton Lyons away to Gateshead Fell, Durham Academy heading to Benwell Hill, Blaydon hosting South North, Newcastle welcoming Stockton and South Shields crossing the Tyne to tackle Tynemouth.