A familiar face will be missing when Whitburn open their Premier Division account this Saturday, with Neil Ayre recently announcing his retirement from the game.
The 39-year-old started his career in the junior ranks at the Village Ground, and has proved to be that increasingly rare and ever more precious commodity – the one-club man.
Regularly clocking up around 5-600 runs per season, it is estimated he has a career aggregate well over 10,000, his crowning glory being a superlative campaign in 2013 when more than 900 runs played a huge part in his beloved Whitburn claiming the First Division crown and gaining promotion to the Premier Division.
With almost 500 scored in 2015, he bows out at the top of his game, and skipper Ross Carty heaped praise on his departing star: “Neil has been our opening bat for the last 20 years and he will be a huge miss for us.”
It looks like Lee Henderson will step into Ayre’s shoes at the top of the order as Whitburn look to get their campaign underway on home soil against the Durham Academy, and with Canterbury Kiwi Jeremy Benton, who has represented New Zealand at Under-19 level, poised to make his debut, and Jack Burnham also in the starting line-up they will have their strongest side in the field.
Eppleton came the closest to a start last Saturday, as might be expected given they were at the Emirates Riverside – they travelled through in the morning but despite the substantial covering and professional groundstaff the weather still had the upper hand.
Thoughts now turn to their first home game at Premier level, with Newcastle due at Church Road this weekend.
While the Tynesiders produced their best ever finish of third last season, Eppleton will not be overawed by their opponents as they will no doubt have stored last year’s feisty Banks Salver meeting between the two sides in their memory banks.
Played at the same venue, the home side rattled off a target of 339 to record a sensational win en route to cup glory.
The home team expect to have a full complement of players available, which means debuts for Liam Dixon, James Davidson and West Indian Abhijai Mansingh as well as Durham’s Paul Coughlin, who had a run out with the County’s second team this week which will possibly have determined how many overs he will be allowed this weekend.
Newcastle also go into the game with a full squad which will include Aussie Nick Hobson and Durham’s Graham Clark.
Hetton Lyons will be facing Jamie Harrison when they travel to Teesside to take on Stockton.
The paceman has been named in a useful looking team which will also contain Lyons’ old-boy Allan Worthy and former Durham player Ryan Buckley.
Hetton’s new overseas man, Faiz Fazal, is in the country and will debut.
He played for India A as recently as January, scoring a century, although no doubt it was a little warmer in Kanpur than it will be in Stockton!
In Saturday’s other games, full strength Chester-le-Street entertain Benwell Hill, Gateshead Fell have Aussie Adam Whatley back at the club after a year with York, and he will feature in the home game against South Shields, who have everyone available.
Champions South North begin yet another title defence when they travel to Tynemouth.
Sunday sees the opening round of the national competition, the Royal London Club Championship, with South Shields entertaining Easingwold, South North travelling to Driffield, and Stockton heading down to York to take on Dunnington. Chester-le-Street were handed a bye and will be at home to the winners of the tie at South Shields in the second round on the May 8.