WITH Durham’s County Championship title chase throwing up a four-day match which is likely to run into the fourth day on Saturday, a number of Premier League clubs will go into this weekend’s league matches without their county stars.
Sunderland will almost certainly have to do without Chris Rushworth, who was named in the 12-man county squad for the visit of Hampshire, and this will be a big blow for the Wearsiders who face a tough test at Ashbrooke against the team just above them in the table, Benwell Hill.
Rushworth has been prominent in Sunderland’s recent surge up the table, and he stands third in the league averages with 23 wickets at a miserly cost of 14.22 runs each.
However, those figures show he has been well supported by Jaspreet Singh and Kieran Waterson, who have 21 and 24 wickets respectively. With the rest of the home team unchanged, skipper Ashley Thorpe knows that his opponents face a similar situation.
Benwell have not found their best form so far, and they have to reckon without Will Smith, who is also in the Durham side. But they will have arguably the league’s best all-rounder on parade, with Zohaib Khan once again proving a handful.
The Pakistani is the leading wicket taker with 32, while he is also just eight runs away from being the sixth player to reach 500 league runs.
Chester-le-Street were fully accepting of the fact that they went down to the better team last Sunday when they were beaten by the West Indian Cavaliers in the quarter-final of the national club cup.
The Nottingham-based outfit are odds on to win the national given that they can call on three ex-internationals, in the shape of Saqlain Mushtaq, Usman Afzaal and Alex Tudor, and the good news for the Cestrians is that they will not have to face them in the National T20, if they are successful, as the Cavaliers had to drop out of that because of a fixture clash.
Chester travel to Guisborough on Sunday for the three-way North East area finals, their opponents being the home club and York. The Cestrians will start as favourites to make it to the regional finals given that the host club are not allowed to play their overseas Test player and York have not done well in previous T20 finals appearances.
Before that, Chester entertain Newcastle on Saturday as they strive to shrug off the two disastrous league defeats that have left them with just a slender 10-point advantage at the top.
They had to fester on those losses through last week’s washout and, with skipper Quentin Hughes still missing, a Newcastle team with top run-scorer Michael Richardson in it could pose problems.
In the other key games, an unchanged South Shields will take on full-strength Hetton Lyons, while Durham Academy take a strong squad to Tynemouth where Chad Koen, Ollie McGee and Sam Robson replace the unavailable Nick Armstrong, Phil Morse and Greg Hollins.