By Chris West
Chester-le-Street are girding their loins for the biggest weekend yet of an already action-packed summer.
Their quest for a third consecutive championship comes to the boil with two crucial league matches in three days, and sandwiched in between those vital fixtures is the northern area final of the Barbados Cockspur T20 Club Cup, victory in which would see the Cestrians advance to the televised finals day on September 19.
A little-known club are all that stands in the way of Chester on Sunday – they take on Central Yorkshire League outfit New Farnley at Ropery Lane (2pm).
The winners advance to Essex’s county ground of Chelmsford, with semis and the final (under floodlights) on the same day, and all matches televised live by Sky.
The icing on the cake, as if any were needed, is that the overall winners receive an all expenses paid pre-season 2012 trip to Barbados as part of their prize.
New Farnley are third in the Central Yorkshire League’s Premier Division, having won 12 and lost two of their 19 league matches to date.
In the last round, they saw off Lincolnshire’s Bracebridge Heath, previous national finalists. The other teams in the last eight are St Just, Peterborough, Ealing, Kendal, Hyde and Valley End – a village club from the Surrey Championship’s Second Division who, as such, have become the competition’s acknowledged giantkillers.
Chester’s league tasks could not be more diverse.
On Saturday, they entertain lowly Stockton, while on Monday they travel to take on closest challengers South North, who have suddenly emerged as a real threat after lopping 51 points off the Cestrians’ lead in the last month to move into second place, just 20 points behind.
Chester go into the three-pronged challenge with everyone back from holiday and a fully fit squad to choose from, but South North are also primed for a final charge as they, too, have everyone fit and available.
However, before tackling the table-toppers, they have the little matter of a derby at Benwell Hill to overcome.
Sunderland, who host Hetton Lyons on Saturday before visiting Stockton on Monday, are back to full strength with the return of Chris Rushworth and Chris Youldon.
Lyons have to reckon without leading run-scorer Shaun Birbeck and Graeme Martin, and draft in Jack McBeth and Dom Metters. Their double ends at home to Tynemouth.
Durham Academy also have a long weekend in prospect. They play in the Just Sport Trophy semi-final at Tynedale tomorrow night, success in which would qualify them for Sunday’s final at Benwell Hill – maybe!
As the quarter-final in the other side of the draw hadn’t been completed up until yesterday that could well be subject to change.
Academy’s league games take them to South Shields and Gateshead Fell, the two bottom sides, and with a full squad at their disposal they will have a great chance to nudge their way into the top half of the table.