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Quakers show signs of ending drought
Darlington could be poised to mount a realistic challenge for NYSD honours after managing to dodge much of the bad weather that has plagued other clubs in the opening weeks.
It is 15 years since the Quakers won the Kerridge Cup, and their last championship was back in 1990 so the pressure for success is growing at one of the biggest clubs in the region.
And while there has been steady progress in recent times, with top half finishes in each of the last three years, their current ranking of second, just six points behind the leaders and with three wins under their belts, represents the most positive of starts.
Skipper Peter Armstrong believes the strength of his attack is the key to their success. He said: "If we can win the toss more often than lose it to put us in control of the conditions then I believe we have a great chance of extending our winning start because our bowling strength will limit most opponents' scoring ability.
"I honestly believe our attack can restrict opponents to under or around 100 fielding first, and we should be able to knock off those sorts of totals.''
The main addition to their strike force this year is former Northallerton pro Jon Barnes, and it is widely accepted there is no better bowler in favourable conditions.
After topping the league bowling averages again in 2011 he already has ten victims under his belt at a miserly 11 runs apiece, and with Armstrong himself just one wicket behind, and the back up trio of Doug Mulholland, Martin Lower and Liam Coates to call upon, it is hardly surprising that the Quakers have caused problems.
However, modest Armstrong is quick to recognise that his team have enjoyed some good fortune.
He said: "So far we've been lucky with the weather. We played at Marske when it was one of only three games possible, and managed to get a game at Stokesley last week because both teams wanted to play despite shortened boundaries and playing on a used pitch, which was the only dry part of the ground.''
Despite the splendid start Armstrong feels Richmondshire are a major threat after witnessing them at first hand in his team's only defeat: "Their overall strength was evident when we lost to them over the recent bank holiday and I think they will have a major say in the title race.''
Darlington expect to be at full-strength for the visit to Feethams of a Middlesbrough side yet to experience victory, but one with plenty of batting depth to test the Quakers attack.
James Lowe and Paul Johnston are again amongst the leading run scorers and both currently average over 50. Tom Hodgson is their one absentee, he misses out due to rugby commitments with his place taken by David Aninakwah.
The early season form of fit-again Lewis Stabler may mean that his appearances for Richmondshire diminish as his Academy commitments increase - with Yorkshire possibly calling him up he is the Dalesmen's one doubt for the trip to Marske where the home team bring in Ben Walker for the unavailable Jo Wing.
The latest bulletin from Great Ayton was that Moses was due to fly into Newcastle on Thursday, but that has been said for the last couple of weeks so it is with bated breath that the villagers' faithful wait to see if the South African will make his long overdue debut in the Leven Park meeting with champions Marton.
The Aytonians will be missing Tom Crown who has injured his knee, so youngster Ryan Tuck retains his place against the title-holders.
Marton will be skippered by Chris Veasey in the absence of regular captain Mattie Brown who is on a stag party in Manchester. Mattie Connolly has recovered from a thigh strain and will be able to bowl.
Richard Borrowdale is back from the United States to spearhead Barnard Castle's attack against Normanby Hall, Steve Naylor's MCC duties keep him at Lord's on Test weekend but Chris Gillespie returns to the Sedgefield line-up for their game with a Hartlepool team missing Adil Arif.
Gary Burdon plays for Billingham against full-strength Guisborough, and unchanged Thornaby, highly impressed by Sri Lankan international Indika de Saram's netting this week, take on bottom club Stokesley who recall Clive Dowson and David Weighell.