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Barnard Castle in bid to maintain place at the top
Barnard Castle's lofty status as the early season pacesetters looks as though it will be tested to the full in a double weekend of league matches against top-level opposition.
The kings of the Castle have somehow managed to squeeze out two games of cricket while most others have had to pull up the drawbridge and wait for the waters to subside, and with their Vere Road ground in remarkably good condition in last week's victory over Stokesley they will certainly enjoy home advantage again today when they take on last season's runners-up Hartlepool.
They then follow up with a trip to Acklam Park on Monday to play a Middlesbrough team expected to do much better than last year when they flirted with relegation before eventually finishing a couple of places above the drop zone.
But the Barney team will be missing last week's match winner, Richard Borrowdale, in both matches. He took a career best Premier haul of seven wickets to clinch victory but is now on a golfing holiday in the US, and with influential batsman Ben Usher also out of the second contest the leaders are grateful that former England under-15 captain Josh Bousfield will be free from Academy commitments to play at Boro.
In this rain-hit campaign the aptly named Pools are itching for action after two washouts, and name a full strength line-up for both their games, meaning Ross Willett should make his delayed debut for the club.
Middlesbrough start their weekend at Leven Park against a Great Ayton team who are unlikely to have their new professional available. Boro, meanwhile, do expect to have their best side in the field - their only doubt was star batsman Paul Johnston who had been struggling with a hamstring injury, so he was one person grateful for the wet weather, which gave him additional time to recover.
The mountain of red tape involved in bringing an overseas player to this country has dogged Ayton's efforts to get South African Brad Moses into the country in time for the weekend. Having had to make a last minute switch of "pro" due to Lal Kumar's injury the villagers have been frustrated by visa delays and didn't yet have a definite arrival date for the Springbok two days ago.
It is therefore unlikely that Moses will face his countryman Brandon Viret who is in residence just down the road at Stokesley where Ayton go to for a bank holiday derby game that is always a feisty affair enjoyed by a large crowd.
Stokesley won't be able to call on former skipper Ian Still who misses both their matches, the first at Sedgefield this afternoon. His place is taken by David Weighell who will play under son Andrew's captaincy for the first time, and with another son, James, set to play in the Ayton match as he will be free of academy duties there is the likelihood that there will be four Weighells on the Stokesley wagon in the SCG derby.
A few Darlington nerves were on edge when they were 34 for 6 chasing down Marske's modest 80 last week, but the Quakers eased to a win that took them into second place. They keep the same side for the Feethams visit of Richmondshire today, with Matthew Wheeler drafted in for Adam Baldwin on Monday at Thornaby who still await news on the arrival of Sri Lankan international Indika de Saram.
In other team news, Adam Warnes returns to the Billingham team, although Keith Hewson is still missing, Josh Carroll and Gary Lynch are absentees for the first of Marske's games, Guisborough expect to be at full strength today with Stephen Turner in for Jonny Coates on Monday, Talab Ramzan is Normanby Hall's only absentee and champions Marton have just one doubt with Mattie Connolly struggling to overcome a side strain.
For the first time in history every single national club cup game in the country was wiped out by the weather last week and Marton have a second crack at hosting Driffield tomorrow, with Richmond going to Ropery Lane. Great Ayton's home tie with Scarborough will be the following Sunday.
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