By Chris West
Darlington Building Society NYSD ECB Premier League
THE first indications that Richmondshire can expect a battle royal if they are to grab their third successive title came in the opening half of a bank holiday weekend which brought shocks and surprises to add spice to an already fascinating start to the season.
Great Ayton raced to one of their most sensational victories against the champions, who suffered one of their biggest ever defeats, while Darlington became the new league leaders after sending Redcar to the foot of the table.
Another major surprise was defeat for Marton, fancied to finish in the championship frame, while Stokesley join Barnard Castle as dark horses after a second win put them in the top three.
The league’s first century of the season was achieved by Saltburn’s John Watson, who moved from Feethams in the close season and shared what may well be a new third-wicket club record of 220 with Niraj Patel against Middlesbrough.
It was Watson’s maiden hundred.
But the match of the day at Great Ayton, where Nick Hendrie hit a classy unbeaten 94 to inflict a nine-wicket defeat on the visiting Dalesmen, more than lived up to its top billing.
Richmondshire’s all-out score of 191 was largely due to a revival in the form of opener James Clarkson (63 with 9 fours) and the continued excellent work of Rob Carr (76 with 7 boundaries) who both stayed concentrated. Even so, Steve Pennock (5-34 from 12 overs) showed how the big occasion inspires him, while Joe Marsay (3-46) produced a lively start to have the first two wickets down for just eight.
Beaten only twice all last season, the champions were surprisingly overwhelmed by the strokeplay of Chris Batchelor (54, 7 fours) and Hendrie, who started cautiously but finished with a flourish with 58 in boundaries, including five sixes. Showing growing confidence, Josh Thompson (32no) shared the last 90 runs with the South African professional.
Darlington’s win over Redcar by 76 runs was a triumph for their newly-arrived professional Rajin Saleh (54) and former pro Jon Barnes (6-21), the latter now has 15 wickets from the first three games.
Saleh faced 135 balls and hit four boundaries within 48 hours of stepping off an aircraft from Bangladesh. He shared a stand of 58 for the second wicket with Liam Coates (42) and 59 for the sixth wicket with Barnes, who then set about dismissing Redcar for just 72 with eight runless overs in his 16.
For Redcar, Mohammed Zahid hit 24 from 27 balls after taking 5-39. Callum Brown got 3-52.
Stokesley pulled off one of the surprises of the day when they beat derby rivals Guisborough by 14 runs, even though new Sri Lankan allrounder Roshen Silva took four wickets on debut. But he was out cheaply as the Priory club slumped to 26 for 3, before recovering to 109-4 and then dipping again to 161 all out.
Graham Murray (54 from 69 balls), Phil Holdsworth (36) and Richard Dunn (32) looked like winning the battle, but Andrew Weighell (4-42), Richard Chandler (3-32) and James Beaumont (2-36) had the final say. When Stokesley made 175-9 on a bowler friendly wicket, Weighell, the home skipper, again showed his batting skills with 72 from 118 balls with 3 fours and 2 sixes.
Marton lost at Hartlepool after being bowled out for 103 with Callum Prosser (6-33 from 14.4 overs) in fiery form.
Replying to the home side’s 179-4, Marton found themselves on 27 for 5, with Prosser taking four of the wickets for just nine runs. But Aussie amateur Sam Jones (47) staged a fightback.
Earlier, Jonathan Rickard (62) and Craig Symington (51no) put Pool on course for a second win in three.
Seaton Carew and Sedgefield both lost heavily against Marske and Barnard Castle respectively.
Barney’s James Quinn (5 for 7 from 4 overs) followed Mike Dixon (2-25) and James Finch (2-30) in dismissing their weakened and pro-less opponents for just 78.
Then Ben Turner (51) and Simon Tennant (20) needed just 19 overs to register a tenwicket victory.
Seaton managed just 126 before their Seaside rivals enjoyed victory by eight wickets.
Acklam Park was again a batsman’s paradise with Middlesbrough’s visit from Saltburn yielding 460 runs as just eight wickets fell.
Watson’s astonishing unbeaten 136 from 169 balls featured 17 boundaries and came after he was ‘bowled’ by a noball by Brett Roberts on 43.
Their 247-3 included 78 from new Indian pro Patel in that possible record stand of 220.
In reply, James Lowe was unbeaten on 91 with seven fours and two sixes from 136 balls.
Boro finished 34 runs behind Saltburn after the skipper featured in stands of 93 and 64.
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