Darlington duel with Richmondshire rages
The fight for the silverware is set to go down to the wire after Darlington snatched back the lead from Richmondshire in what has become one of the most captivating championship contests for years.
And the battle for survival, now narrowed down to between four clubs – two of which will drop down a division – has become just as tense and enthralling.
Starting out a point behind the Dalesmen after winning back and then conceding the lead in the space of just 48 hours the previous weekend, Darlington now face the last two games of the season with a two point advantage following their 12th win which left Billingham Synthonia among those still threatened by relegation.
It was a good day all round for the Quakers with James Dobson and Liam Coates both making centuries as they posted over 200 runs for the first time before Jon Barnes bowled through the pain barrier with a damaged hand to take five wickets for just 23 runs in 18 overs. Doug Mulholland and Peter Armstrong shared the other five wickets as Synners were bowled out for 115, beaten by 125 runs.
Richmondshire, like the Quakers, declared their innings but might have wished they had given themselves even more time to bowl as Normanby Hall defied them for 51 overs.
The Dales club made 256 for six with James Clarkson (60) and Shani Dissanayake (50) hitting 12 boundaries between them before sharing the bowling honours too.
The Sri Lankan took five wickets for just 28 runs, and Clarkson grabbed three of the other four, but Graham Shaw (44 not out) dug-in to thwart the hosts as Normanby finished on 98 for nine. He had joined the fight on 27 for five. Richmond could only take the maximum 17 draw points.
With defeats all round, Thornaby, Marske and Sedgefield along with Billingham, stayed firmly in the danger zone. Just when they needed one more win to guarantee a second premier division season, Sedgefield were bowled out for their lowest score by Barnard Castle. James Finch (5-10 in 9.5 overs) had them out for 81 and his side won by five wickets.
Bottom club Thornaby gave an improved batting display against Guisborough for whom Graham Murray hit an unbeaten 80 out of 195 for five. But they lost by a 51 run margin despite spirited displays from Jonathan Spillane (49) and Faz Hussain (47) and remain 16 points adrift of Billingham going into a crunch meeting next weekend between the two clubs.
Marske, who are sandwiched between them, faced a massive total when they took second knock against Great Ayton. Professionals, Chris Batchelor (156 not out) and Brad Moses (108 not out) shared a stand of 212 as Ayton posted 297 for two before bowling out the Seasiders for 134.
Batchelor made the season’s top individual score at a run a ball with 20 fours and three sixes, while Moses got his hundred in 90 balls with five sixes among his 13 boundaries.
Marske collapsed after Dominic Hendricks (47) took them past the hundred mark, losing seven wickets for just 27 runs to be all out for 134 with 20 overs batting time left.
Now free of relegation fears, Stokesley continued their new found form to beat Marton by four wickets with Andrew Weighell starring with a half century and three wickets. But Middlesbrough couldn’t force a win against Hartlepool for whom Marc Symington (40 not out) smashed a six in the final over to gain extra draw points with his side on a perilous 127 for nine.