Expect twists and turns at double

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Teams face two games in three days this weekend, and there are likely to be some defining moments in both the race for the Readers Durham Cricket League championship and also the “promotion and relegation” stakes of mid-table.

The Bank Holiday double header will no doubt provide joy and heartache in equal measure as the season reaches fever pitch.

The intriguing battle to become the historic first champions in this inaugural season is likely to feature a few twists and turns.

Burnmoor start off with a Saturday game they will be looking to take maximum points from.

They go to lowly Shildon Railway where, despite recent signs of a revival after a disastrous start to life in their new surroundings, the Railwaymen have run out of steam regularly against the better sides.

Moor will be hoping to take a first-class ticket to the top, and aptly enough, they will have a Stoker in the team to fuel their bid, Graham Stoker joining Jordan Gibson in the side, with Paul Davidson and Mark Robson missing.

Having hopefully got the Moor on the right track by shunting the Railwaymen aside, Stoker will be unavailable for Monday’s home game against Kimblesworth, with Robson slotting straight back in upon his return.

Of course, Burnmoor need leaders Esh Winning to drop some points, and that could be a distinct possibility on Saturday when they have to go to Tudhoe to take on the most in-form team in the league.

Since losing their second match of the season, high-scoring Tudhoe have gone 19 matches without defeat, a run that has taken them to within 48 points of the summit.

If they can topple Esh, they would become genuine title contenders themselves over the final three games.

With Dan Hardaker definitely back, Tudhoe will be at full strength.

To add to the intrigue of this game, Esh, most unusually, have to cope with significant player shortages, with four players missing.

Paul Rayner is on holiday, and Stuart Hall, Michael Oughton and Michael Robson are all attending a pop concert, so playing resources have been stretched to the limit.

Former Durham wicketkeeper Graham Hurst is dragged out of semi-retirement and promising youngster Liam Smith will be handed an opportunity.

Batters Andrew Wilson and Brian Gott have also been called up.

Both sides face away games on Monday, with Tudhoe at Castle Eden and Esh Winning visiting Dawdon.

But they could be singing a different tune then, with the three concert attenders back on the hymn sheet.

Castle Eden, in fourth place, begin their tough-looking double with a trip to Kimblesworth, but they do have Alan Unsworth returning to the side.

The battle for top 14 places – and a slot in the top flight next season – continues in earnest.

There is no doubt that the games involving Mainsforth, Hylton, Ushaw Moor and Durham City can all be considered “promotion” battles from now on, with just 19 points separating 13th from 16th.

Hylton continue their quest with a home game against Evenwood, followed by a trip to Bill Quay. Skipper Alan Mustard believes this men need two wins from their last four matches to secure their place in the top 14.

But while they are unchanged for the first game, they have to reckon without Gary Braithwaite on Monday, and it is likely that John Stokoe will step up.

The problem for the other teams in the mix is that Mainsforth have two winnable matches, starting with a home game against struggling Silksworth and ending with a trip to Seaham Park.

Admittedly, Park’s improved showings of late make this a more daunting prospect than it would have been earlier in the season.

Park include Andrew Worthy and David Morton for a weekend which begins at near-neighbours Murton.

Murton are also Ushaw Moor’s opponents on Monday, and they will be at full strength, with the return of Keith Chapman.

If Moor slip up in their games, then Durham City can make further progress in their top-14 bid – they play at Ryhope on Saturday and then entertain Whiteleas on Monday.

It’s all change again at Ryhope, with three in and three out.

Adam Swansbury is getting married, but, with two more unavailable, the return of Connor Cheal, Scott Lawrence and Tom Lemon is welcome.

Whiteleas play Dawdon before facing Durham, and they have Alan Beadle and Ryan Hale back in harness.