The Readers Durham Cricket League shakes off the close-season cobwebs when they begin their 2016 programme this weekend – snow permitting!
It wasn’t a winter of discontent, more one of sustained activity for the league’s hardworking administrators, which began as soon as the 2015 campaign ended with champions Esh Winning denied promotion to the NEPL, and runners-up Mainsforth losing the resulting play-off against South Hetton, who thus clung on to their top-level status.
Then, just a couple of months ago, South Hetton tendered a shock resignation to the NEPL.
To the credit of all three leagues, a solution was quickly found that kept South Hetton playing cricket – their one team is now in the North East Durham League.
Mainsforth then accepted a late invitation to the NEPL, with the Durham Cricket League ‘evened out’ to 12 teams in each division.
Mainsforth would have started as one of the clear favourites for the title this year, but the door has now been left open, and an intense battle is now expected.
Heading the queue could be the new kids on the top-flight block.
Seaham Park swept all before them as they powered to the Division Two title, losing just once as they outpaced Burnopfield by 48 clear points, their illustrious rivals having to settle for the second promotion slot.
Dave Hanson will once again lead the Park challenge, and with Siddharth Chitnis back at the club after being Division Two’s top run scorer and wicket-taker, and John Sample fully fit again after his shoulder problems of 2015, the higher level challenge does not hold any fears for the new boys.
One big loss will be the unavailable Alex Ludlow, but the club has replaced him with the talented Omar Shahid, who played at Middlesbrough last year.
Park’s promotion has also reawakened the Seaham derby rivalry with Dawdon, who finished third in the top flight last time out.
While Dawdon have had to contend with the departures of John Leslie and Richard Ede, their new overseas player, Indian leg-spinner Bavesh Patel, should arrive in time for the season opener. He will be joined by Dave Lowther, who has moved from Hetton Lyons.
Burnopfield jumped from the Northumberland and Tyneside Senior League to the DCL in 2014 as that provided the only promotional route at that time to the NEPL, so the winter’s developments in the pyramid, whereby NTSL teams are now in the promotion equation, have a touch of irony for them.
Nevertheless, their long-term plan remains firmly on course, and with Gareth Breese at the helm, and Callum Thorp still in residence, the Durham old-boy ranks have been boosted further by the arrival of Neil Killeen.
David Baxter is another Burnopfield acquisition, having moved from Bunker Hill, where his former club, Philadelphia, have signed Indian all-rounder Armajeet Singh.
It is his first time in England, and he is joined in the newcomers’ ranks by hard-hitting batsman-keeper Gary Braithwaite.
At Durham City, Jake McCann leads a largely unchanged squad, Castle Eden have Richard Ede back although visa problems are affecting the arrival of their new overseas man, and Horden have made a significant signing in the shape of Lal Kumar, the former Hetton Lyons star.
Hylton received an eleventh hour reprieve from relegation last year, but it could be another struggle with their leading batsman, Alan Mustard, having moved to Bill Quay, and the arrival of Bangladeshi Suhrawadi Shuvo delayed for several weeks after a call-up for a domestic engagement.
Champions Esh Winning have had to get over their disappointment at being denied promotion, and have lost talismanic skipper Dave Lawlor.
However, returning to the club after three years at Brandon is John Carmedy, with Jordan Grossert another capture.
And there will be a new overseas interest with first-classer Jibran Khan arriving from Pakistan – the 25-year-old is a left arm spinner and right hand bat.