Pre-season championship favourites Richmondshire are set to snatch the title from under the noses of summer long challengers Darlington after taking back the league leadership to leave them needing just to win their final game next weekend.
It could be a glorious end to one of the most captivating of seasons for the Dalesmen who have only won the title once before, 17 years ago. If they do clinch it they look like condemning their opponents Billingham Synthonia to a second season of lower division cricket in six years as one of the two relegated clubs.
But who would go down with them is still in the melting pot as two of the other three in the danger zone, Marske and Thornaby, both won and Sedgefield are back in trouble with a last day fight on their hands.
The decision to send a first class air ticket to Sri Lanka for the return of professional proved key for Thornaby as he led them to a magnificent 136 runs win over fellow strugglers Billingham.
He hit 70 and shared in a sixth wicket stand of 93 with Rizwan Hussain (42) to turn the game on its head after the Synners had bagged five wickets relatively cheaply. Then he grabbed a vital wicket to encourage Dale Metcalfe and Omar Shahid, who took eight between them as Billingham collapsed for 75. Metcalfe’s four wickets were taken in 7.3 overs without conceding a single run.
Marske got a win over Hartlepool which raised their hopes of survival and it was largely due to Richie Evans who took seven wickets and then top scored with 39.
Pool, who haven’t won in the last 13 games, were bowled out for 128. Now the Seasiders have to go to Sedgefield for a do-or-die finale next Saturday.
The top-of-the-table drama revealed itself in terms of either joy or dismay in major doses at Guisborough and Barnard Castle respectively. Richmond beat the Priory club by three wickets with just eight balls to spare while, in contrast, Darlington could only manage a draw against Barney where the last two batsmen defied them for nine overs.
Guisborough were bowled out for 179 with Shani Dissanayake (3-42 from 17 overs) giving nothing away. Then James Clarkson (53), Mattie Cowling (43) and Mike Layfield (38) left 60 runs being needed from the last ten overs.
Darlington, who started the day two points ahead, ended a point behind for the third time in as many weeks despite looking likely winners several times in their game at Barnard Castle.
After posting 212 for nine, they had Barney in deep trouble before the recently elevated second team batsman James Parkinson hit a half century. Then, after taking three wickets cheaply, they were frustrated as Andrew Toulson and Richard Stanwix played out the last nine overs for the hosts to finish on 127 for nine.
In games where the results were of little consequence, Marton and Stokesley enjoyed impressive victories. More than 500 runs, including two centuries, were scored at Marton where Middlesbrough went down by five wickets.
Boro captain James Lowe hit 113 from 130 balls and home ‘pro’ Upul Indrasiri countered with 126 from 147 balls. Marton won with two balls left.
Stokesley skipper Andrew Weighell was unbeaten on 77 after South African ‘pro’, Brandon Viret took seven wickets against Normanby Hall who suffered defeat by nine wickets.
Great Ayton were the highest scorers of the day – 277 for four – against Sedgefield with Chris Batchelor (74) and Lewis Harper (69) excelling.