Philadelphia enjoy the “privilege” of being the first team to get a close up look at Faisal Iqbal when the Pakistan international makes his debut against them for Mainsforth on Saturday.
There has been a long and lonely furrow ploughed by Mainsforth administrators to get to this point, but the star signing arrived at Heathrow yesterday and was being ferried up to the North East today in the club “Roller”.
Iqbal has quite a pedigree in this day and age of middle-of-the-road club pros when international quality is hard to come by in league cricket, the 33-year-old having played in 26 Test Matches and 18 ODI’s.
His last Test appearance was in 2010 in Sydney, and he has a decent enough batting average of 27 at the highest level, having scored more than 1,000 runs.
In all, he has played 201 first-class matches, scoring 11,485 runs at an average of 40, and the club’s other star signing this season, Jonny Barnes, was enthusiastic and tongue-in-cheek about his new team-mate.
“He’s obviously a quality act, having scored centuries at both Test and ODI level, but there again he might not have played on a green top in the Durham League before!” he joked.
Philadelphia and Mainsforth have met once already this season, with the Frank Lees Cup game ending in a high scoring tie at Bunker Hill, where a short boundary on one side added to the big-hitting drama.
Phili suffered elimination that night after losing more wickets than their opponents, but they will have the comfort of knowing they were able to match the pre-season title favourites blow for blow.
For the third game running, Phili will be unchanged as they keep faith with the line-up that suffered a first league defeat at Crook last week, while Mainsforth’s only change will be the certain inclusion of Iqbal.
Given that just three points separate the two sides who are among the leading group of seven covered by just 22 points, the stakes are particularly high.
The new leaders are Esh Winning, who enjoy home advantage against a Bill Quay side who have Paul Bentham back in harness, whilE early pacemakers Dawdon, just two points behind Esh, travel to Easington for another crucial match between title contenders.
Dawdon have the influential Mark Ewart back in their side for this one – he replaces Craig Price – while their hosts also have returnees, with Gary Ward and Stephen Brett back from their holidays, although Stuart Pattison is still away for another week.
Third-placed Durham City travel to Horden, who have delayed selection with Jamie Greenwood and Lee Jackson unavailable and Tommy Nicholson having returned to his former club Peterlee.
Castle Eden, in fourth, entertain a Crook side buoyed by their first win which followed swiftly on the back of the famous tied game, and Hylton have an opportunity to register their first win and move out of the bottom two when they entertain struggling Boldon CA.