Seaham Park have the perfect opportunity to reinforce their title credentials when they attempt to make it four Durham Cricket League wins in a row at Crook Town on Saturday.
Park’s start to life in Division One was somewhat subdued, opening defeats to Easington and Dawdon suppressing pre-season talk of another title challenge following their outstanding success as Division Two champions in 2015.
But the arrival of Siddharth Chitnis has seen a remarkable turnaround, with three consecutive league victories lifting them up into third place, and even though they are still some 39 points adrift of Burnopfield, there is renewed hope of the runaway leaders being caught following their surprise defeat to Horden.
Chitnis’s output in the short time he has been here is remarkable. In league and cup matches he has 251 runs at an average of 126, as well as 20 wickets at 9.5 each. In addition to the three league wins, he has also inspired Park to cup victories over Castle Eden and Seaham Harbour.
But Crook represent a real test as they have found their own feet in recent weeks.
Their star turn has been Aussie Tearan Gleeson, who was recommended to Town by their own Steve Chapman, who has an academy in Melbourne.
Gleeson averages 106 in the league having just being out twice in four innings while amassing 212 runs.
Park expect to be unchanged for the trip to Crook, although opening bowler Thomas Ferguson has joined John Sample on the treatment table.
Both players are suffering with shoulder injuries which will prevent them bowling, so they’ll play as batsmen only.
After their shock defeat, Burnopfield face a tricky trip to Castle Eden where the home team are looking to bounce back after they were beaten by Easington.
But they’ll have to bounce back without Ball – with Ryan away, Richard McGlasham returns to man the Castle ramparts.
Second-placed Easington continue their quest for honours at Bunker Hill where hosts Philadelphia are desperate to get back on track after a couple of difficult away games.
Easington have David Tarn back and he slots straight into the place vacated by Jason Moses.
Phili have their own selection issues, with Mattie Noble and Gary Embleton working, and Ian Hauxwell injured, but they do have Paul Hollinshead and Gary Braithwaite back to bolster their resources.
In Saturday’s other games, Dawdon entertain a Horden team fresh from that success at Burnopfield and are able to include new signing Lewis Broom, who has returned home following a brief spell with Peterlee.
It’s two in and two out for Durham City with Will Jewitt and Will Dobson out, but Ian Conn and Paul Moralee return for the home game with Bill Quay.
Hylton face another difficult away day with a trip to champions Esh Winning.
The loss of all-rounder Broom is a bit of a blow to Division Two leaders Peterlee, but they will still start as heavy favourites to cement their position as table-toppers when they entertain Boldon CA.
Peterlee have Craig Deighton available to them again, while Darren Bill is drafted in to replace Craig Hedley. The CA line-up is boosted by the return of Adam Crooks.
Whiteleas are poised for any slip-up on Peterlee’s part. Following four consecutive wins they are just a single point behind the leaders and have a home game against Murton to come.
Leas’ captain Owen Peterson returns to the fold after missing last week’s game, but one batsman the skipper has to do without is Alex Thomas, although Scott Oliver returns to the line-up and is expected to fill the vacant opening spot.
Murton hope to be able to name the same side that demolished Silksworth, who are finding life tough recently.
With just 12 points to their name from five matches, Silksworth are already some way adrift at the foot of the table, and they are desperate to make home advantage count when they take on Littletown.
Their resources are boosted by the return of Micky Waterson and Johnny Hayes.
Meanwhile, Ryhope will be hoping to play on Marsden’s vulnerability following their surprising collapse to Peterlee last week.
That match represented a real shock to Marsden and proved a disappointing debut for John Leslie following his recent signing.
He is unavailable this week so Adam Marshall is drafted in for his first team debut.
Ryhope are another club who set great store on a junior set-up, but they are nevertheless delighted to see Lee Gilbert making his first appearance, his only previous outing being a midweek league game in which he scored a century.
He replaces Darren Clasper, while Connor Cheal comes in for Dave Gilbert.