Leaders to test Whitburn progress

Sunderland bowl to Whitburn batsman Neil Ayre at Ashbrooke last weekend. Picture by David Allan.
Sunderland bowl to Whitburn batsman Neil Ayre at Ashbrooke last weekend. Picture by David Allan.
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SATURDAY’S visit of multiple champions and league leaders South Northumberland provides Whitburn with the perfect chance to demonstrate just how far they have come in the top flight of regional cricket.

After 15 Dukes North East Premier League Premier Division matches, Whitburn have established themselves in the upper tier, a record of four wins and four defeats already assuring them of avoiding the traumas of a late-season relegation scrap.

South North arrive this weekend with a 44-point lead at the top of the table, an advantage that should translate into their ninth title in the 15 seasons of Premier League cricket when September comes around, and the game allows Whitburn the chance to measure their progress against the best.

When the pair met back in mid-May, South North came out on top, but Whitburn made them fight all the way with the Bulls only able to manage a total of 175-8 in their full 65 overs before they went on to record a 54-run win, mainly courtesy of spinner Lee Crozier.

As might be expected of a team at the top, the leading individual statistics feature a number of South North players who are enjoying a splendid season.

Crozier is well up the wicket-taking charts with 30 victims, with team-mate Jonny Wightman heading that list with 40. In Karl Turner, they also have the leading run-maker with 624, while Whitburn’s top man is Stuart Walker, with 288.

South North expect to be at full strength, with Adam Cragg and Jimmy Miller coming straight back in to replace Andrew Doig and Rob Peyton, although Marcus North will not be appearing.

The Australian Test player is registered for league action following his debut in the recent T20 finals day, but he may only play a couple of games – a pretty decent insurance policy should the title race get tight!

While Lee Henderson misses out this week through holidays, Whitburn hope to have the considerable services of Durham bowler Paul Coughlin available to them for this one.

Hetton Lyons need Whitburn to do them a favour as every game that passes without inroads being made into that 44-point lead means their chances of title glory become ever more remote.

The Lyons have a big weekend of cricket in front of them.

They follow their Saturday home game against Newcastle with another home tie in the Banks Salver semi-final on Sunday against Chester-le-Street, and they do expect Ryan Pringle to be available while Shaun Birbeck also returns.

Their only doubt revolves around the fitness of Chris Varley.

He suffered an ankle injury last time out and, at the moment, his chances of playing are considered in the 50/50 bracket.

The Salver showdown is also Chester’s main chance of silverware in what remains of the summer, and they hope to be at full strength for a weekend which begins with a Ropery Lane league match against Blaydon.

Talking of big games, there is also the little matter of a potential relegation decider at Eastwood Gardens where the two bottom teams clash.

If Gateshead Fell lose their home game against Sunderland, then it Is probably curtains for them, but if they win then the Wearsiders will be dragged into an arduous fight for survival.

Unfortunately for Sunderland, Usman Arshad is injured so the Durham man will not be in their line-up.

But the Ashbrooke men have made an overseas signing, with Sri Lankan Dinesh Jayamuni, a seam bowling all-rounder, possibly arriving in time to make his debut in this crucial match.

Fell make two changes, with Mike Elliott and Andy Porter in for Steve Devenport and Mike Phillips.