The championship merry-go-round again produced new leaders, the sixth change this season, as Darlington edged out Richmondshire whose reign at the top had lasted just seven days.
The Quakers, who have returned as table-toppers for a third time in 12 games, showed their title credentials with a big victory over Saltburn to take full advantage of the predictable stalemate between the Dalesmen and Marton who were locked together in the day’s top match.
The drawn finish slightly favoured Richmond who picked up 15 points compared to Marton’s nine, and despite falling four points behind the new pacesetters they remain well placed in the fight to retain the crown they won last year.
Although ten points further adrift of the new leaders, Marton retained third place as Guisborough, just beneath them, couldn’t take advantage as they were also held to a draw. But Great Ayton are back in the race after winning the battle of the championship ‘outsiders’ against Hartlepool.
Darlington’s big day saw them clinch their fifth win in six games and their eighth overall. With a half century from Harry Linton, and useful contributions from Jon Barnes (37) and James Dobson (33), they reached a challenging 191 for nine and then bowled out Saltburn for just 110.
Once again, Barnes, Doug Mulholland and Peter Armstrong collected nine wickets between them, bowling 36 overs of which 13 were runless. They now have 79 league wickets between them.
Falling just behind Mulholland, who has 32 victims, as the leading individual is Marton’s Upul Indrasiri who took two wickets to register his 31st against Richmondshire.
But there was little he could do to subdue visiting professionals Shani Dissanayake (94) and Gary Pratt (75) who showed star quality in a third wicket stand of 134.
The Sri Lankan faced just 73 balls and hit 16 fours while, in contrast, opener Pratt batted until they were beyond the 200 runs mark and scored just seven boundaries.
Dissanayake (3-48) kept Marton’s liveliest batsmen in check and Andy Fleming (3-27) benefitted with wickets as the hosts chased runs late in their innings.
Skipper Chris Veasey (49) top scored as the home side replied with 175 for eight, 43 runs short of the target set by the Dalesmen.
Great Ayton’s win, their first in three games, was crucial to put them back in the championship hunt and knock back the bid for glory by Hartlepool who had won their previous three matches.
A second wicket stand of 87 between John Rickard (54) and his skipper Jack Wilkinson (41) left Pool on 140 for seven after 50 overs and although not a big score it was looking pretty handy as Ayton’s first three wickets fell cheaply.
But Nick Hendrie (61 not out) and Jon Grainge (38) came together to stage a winning partnership. Ayton won by five wickets with Hendrie facing 131 balls and hitting five fours and two sixes.
Guisborough had to be content with the major share of the points in a drawn finish for a second week and they’ve now fallen 18 points behind top spot. They were held by Stokesley who, ironically, dropped two places to ninth even though they ended a run of defeats.
Ritchie Evans (86) and Graham Murray (53) put the Priory club in a strong position on 241 for seven before Chris Allinson (4-53 and 57) hit his best form against his former club. Stokesley played out their overs on 163 for five.
Sedgefield are in further danger of dropping back into a relegation fight after a batting collapse against Barnard Castle which joins the most momentous of the season. They lost eight wickets for 18 runs – and nine altogether for just 31 – after Rob Dixon (5-28) and James Finch (4-15) turned the game on its head.
Amazingly it followed a second wicket stand of 81 between Steve Naylor (44) and his captain Richie Hawthorne (43) which had put them on 96 without any sign of the impending disaster. Earlier Simon Tennant (93) and James Quinn (46) had shared a stand of 97 to allow Barney to reach 230 for five. Sedgefield replied with 127.
The day’s highest scoring game was at Acklam Park where Middlesbrough and Redcar played out a draw. Just 11 wickets fell as 446 runs were registered including the day’s only century from Adil Ditta who faced 151 balls and hit 14 fours.
James Lowe (73) made sure Boro reached 233 for four but the Seasiders made a brave fight of it by getting within 20 runs in reply. Half centuries from Muhammed Saad and Tom Urwin, and 40 from Tyler Easton, kept them well in contention.