Things looking up for Durham at last

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THE good times may be on the way back for Durham City with their early-season form suggesting they are at long last on the road to recovery.

City are already 20 points clear at the top of the Readers Durham Cricket League Second Division after an unbeaten start to the season.

After several years of struggle at the wrong end of the Durham Senior League, followed by last summer’s “relegation” to the bottom tier, their new-found confidence is heartening for a club with a proud playing tradition.

This Saturday, they face a side who come from the opposite end of the cricketing ladder when they entertain Whiteleas.

Just a couple of years ago, Leas were plying their trade in the North East Durham League, but the ambitious South Tyneside club have made great strides in recent times and, having strengthened their squad over the close-season, they are likely to be one of the main challengers for promotion.

Although missing the influential Subhan Christudas through work, City skipper Jake McCann has three players returning, with Danni Hazell, Scott Steel and Mudara Senanayake back in the side.

Leas are forced into one change, with keeper Andrew Potts missing. Alan Beadle steps up from the second team, while Scott Oliver will become the glove man in Potts’ absence.

They go into the match trailing City by 29 points, but do have a crucial game in hand.

Leas skipper Ray McCrae recognises the test facing his side, saying: “Durham have some very experienced players and are a dangerous batting unit.

“We are looking forward to the challenge and it’s a great chance to show just how much we’ve progressed, especially if our players perform the way I know they can.”

Ryhope are in second place, and they will be keen to reinforce their own promotion challenge when they go to Langley Park, who came back down to earth with a bump at Durham City last week. With Connor Cheal still sidelined by a knee injury, Ryhope stick with an unchanged line-up as they seek to extend their unbeaten start.

Peterlee are back in action after their free day last weekend, and the break has given them the chance to rebuild their resources, with James Kemp and Michael Garraghan available again, and Thomas Nicholson straight back into the side after his six-week stay at South Hetton.

Murton are the visitors on Saturday, and they show several changes, with Ian King and Jonathan Seed back, and Andrew Upperton called up. Richard Lowes and Keith Chapman are unavailable.

Teams in the top flight face another bank holiday double header, with Saturday’s matches being followed by another round of league fixtures on Monday.

Just three teams remain unbeaten, and two of those head the table as the scramble to finish in the top two intensifies.

Burnmoor look to have two winnable games on paper, but matches are never won on paper and they have to reckon without Ian Conn and Stephen Meek for the trip to Evenwood.

While Meek might play on Monday, new signing Will Philips misses that one because of exam commitments. The ever-dependable Gary Brown will once again dust off his whites to take his place.

Moor should be confident against Evenwood, who have hardly mustered a run all season, their woeful batting form dumping them at the foot of the table, while Monday’s opponents, Philadelphia, have hardly set the world alight either.

Phili begin their double with a Bunker Hill match against Crook Town, and crucially they have to reckon without Stephen Robinson, who has been in outstanding form with the ball.

Also out on Saturday are Viran Virani and Dan Foggin, although only Virani is missing on Monday.

Phili started as one of the pre-season favourites for success, but their batting has let them down badly and they now have quite some ground to make up if they are to mount a challenge.

They can perhaps take some heart from the fighting qualities shown by their last pair at Mainsforth last week. At 59-9, and staring a humiliating defeat in the face, Stephen Robinson (38 balls) and Mirza Baig (66 balls) batted 15 overs to save the game.

Horden are on the crest of a wave, but facing the toughest of weekends when they entertain Esh Winning and then travel to Tudhoe.

They go into the testing twosome without brothers Dave and Lee Gilbert, who have chosen the bank holiday for Lee’s stag do, something that will no doubt have one or two old timers shaking their heads.

Josh Broom and Josh Wolfe are drafted in to replace the pair.

There was great relief at Boldon CA last weekend when an unusual sight greeted visitors to their ground – a cricket match.

The first of the season at any level ended in success, with the win over Evenwood leaving CA as the only other team not to taste defeat yet, although their four weather-related draws mean they occupy a berth in the bottom half of the table.

Apart from the novelty of actually playing a home match, the other great bonus for them was that Gary Frater made a comeback after initially indicating he might not be available this season.

He retains his place in a full-strength side who start off with a home game against Marsden and follow up with a trip to Easington.

Marsden skipper Chris Mann expects to be back to full fitness after playing little part over the last month because of a groin injury. Their second game is at Castle Eden.

Easington begin with a trip to Mainsforth, with Brian Fenwick junior in for Andrew Price. Fenwick senior answers the call on Monday as Michael Robson is working.