THE battle of the batting giants to see who can be the first to reach the top ranking 1,000 runs milestone has begun.

Three are in the race, Great Ayton’s Nick Hendrie, Darlington’s Liam Coates and Richmondshire’s Gary Pratt, all having hit top form in their respective weekend games, and with just ten runs separating the top from the third.

Hendrie, who made an unbeaten 136 against Redcar, his third century of the season, leads with 828, eight more than Coates, who hit 90 against Hartlepool with Pratt (818) just two further behind.

The Richmond skipper enjoyed the most spectacular innings of the day with his 89 runs against Guisborough coming from just 48 balls with 12 fours and five sixes.

His team won by nine wickets after bowling out the Priorymen for only 138 to keep up the pressure on leaders, Darlington, and second-placed Stokesley, who both won impressively too.

Only Roshen Silva (47) distinguished himself, coming to the crease when the second Guisborough wicket fell at 16 and only leaving with the score on 115. But their tail failed to wag and they lost their last five wickets for just 23.

The Richmond trio of James Clarkson (3-40 from 16 overs), Craig Marshall (3- 24 from 10.1) and Sam Wood (3-28 from nine) did the damage.

Clarkson opened the batting with the incredible Pratt but was largely a spectator in a century plus partnership, contributing an unbeaten 27.

Darlington maintained their 27 point lead as tabletoppers, upholding their recent impressive form with their 11th victory, while Stokesley’s win at Sedgefield featured one of the most spectacular batting collapses ever recorded.

After posting a modest 166- 8 with Will Brown (35) the top scorer, they sent their hosts crashing to an all-out total of 51, with the last eight wickets falling for the addition of just one run – and that was a no-ball.

South African Dieter Klein (6-35) produced his best figures of the season to lead the rout along with Richard Chandler (4-14), with six of their opponents failing to score and two of them golden “ducks”.

Klein bowled four of his victims and wicketkeeper Brown shared the other two among the three catches he held.

It was when Rameez Nawaz, top scorer with 18, was third out on 50 that the most remarkable of collapses began. Six fell without the scoreboard moving and the final two with one run added.

Darlington’s victory by 155 runs came after Pool won the toss and asked them to bat first.

They responded with 239-6 with Coates facing 107 balls for his 90 and hitting eight fours and a six.

He shared a stand of 82 for the fourth wicket with James Dobson (35) before Jon Barnes (32 not out) and Colin Biglin (31 not out) shared an undefeated 61 for the seventh. Star bowler Barnes (4-15 from 15 overs) took his first three wickets for five runs after 12 while Jack Vickerman (3-12) sent down three rare overs and Coates (2-33) again showed his all-round class.

For Pool, newcomers Jake Richardson (27) and Gary Cunliffe (21) made the most of their promotion.

Great Ayton’s faint hopes of making a late championship challenge remain intact after defeating Redcar by 78 runs in a high scoring game in which Nick Hendrie’s brilliant 115 ball century and Chris Batchelor’s 63 runs were featured in an opening partnership of 164.

Hendrie smashed 16 fours and three sixes while Batchelor hit eight boundaries.

Ayton posted 273-3 but had to endure a nailbiting finish as they only had four balls left when they took the last Redcar wicket on 195.

Mohammed Saad (64) almost saved the game for the Seasiders but Joe Marsay (4- 61) and Lewis Harper (4-73) struck decisively.

Middlesbrough’s second victory in five was just what the doctor ordered – literally.

Their opener, Paul Johnston, a medical man by profession, hit an undefeated 78 to join the growing list of those reaching 500 runs, and the success over Barnard Castle by eight wickets relieved any worries that they might be sucked into the relegation fight.

Johnston and James Lowe (57 not out) shared a 107 run stand to overtake Barney’s 194-8 in which Simon Tennant (97 not out) showed great form as he, too, reached 500.

Saltburn are still staring a return to the lower league in the face after missing out on beating Marske.

John Watson (68 and 3-32) showed professional quality for Saltburn but they couldn’t get the final Marske wicket which would have taken them a step closer to escaping the dreaded drop.

Marske, whose last two batsmen needed to survive the last nine balls, only wanted seven runs to win themselves.

Little excitement, though, at Seaton Carew (184 all out) where Marton (139-7) forced a draw too.