HOWZATT: Village cricket returns to the dale today
HOWZATT: Village cricket returns to the dale today

IT’S not quite business as usual as teams prepare for today's start of the Darlington and District Cricket League season, more the new normal.
After last year’s half-season and shorter matches, games will revert to 40 overs-a-side for the new campaign.
But they will continue to be played in the shadow of Covid-19, complete with risk assessments, sanitiser and no traditional teas. That said, teams are looking forward to what they hope will be a full season as well as welcoming back players who sat out last year’s truncated action.
In an A division featuring just 11 teams after Nunthorpe’s demise, all-rounder Dan Lee will captain a Raby Castle first XI which will include the return of the Dent twins Joseph and Matthew.
Mark Humble will be in charge of the seconds in the B division and hopes to introduce the first of the youngsters who have come through the club's junior development programme for their first taste of senior action.
Aldbrough St John, who won last year's one-off league title, have retained the players who brought that success and will expect to be in contention again this year.
Michael Fleming, who was at the helm last year, will be in charge for what is his first full season as captain.
Aldbrough’s second team, in the C division, will be steered by Dave Wilson, enjoying his first season as captain.
Barningham are another team who will rely on the tried and tested when they visit new promoted Witton-le-Wear for the season opener on Saturday. Hard hitting batsman Rob Stanwix again takes charge of a side that would expect to finish in the top half of the table.
Cliffe CC are a team which could cause a surprise or two in the A division this season under the watchful eye of wicket keeper Chris Easby.
His vice-captain is useful all-rounder Dan Naisbitt, formerly of Haughton, and the side will be strengthened by the return of bowler Ben Howe from Lands and new signing Tom Barwick, who played league cricket in West Yorkshire before moving to Heighington.
These new arrivals have allowed a couple of first team veterans to step down to the second XI in the B division, with Richard Mallender taking on the captaincy, aided and abetted by Richard Jameson.
Of the other sides in the top division Haughton, who finished level on points with Aldbrough last year only to be pipped to the title on runs per wicket, will be there or thereabouts again, and Middleton St George can never be underestimated.
In the B division, Middleton-in-Teesdale will be relying on a mix of youth and experience under John Fletcher’s leadership.
Middleton are another side which will welcome back those who sat out last season but will also continue to give experience to younger players who, like Raby, have come through the juniors.
After a proper soaking a couple of weeks ago, the ground is drying out and Dave Garth will ensure teams heading up the dale will enjoy excellent playing conditions.
The state of the ground at Lands CC is also usually a cause for concern at the start of the season, but the club reports it to be drying out well thanks to the recent dry, if cold, spell and a fair breeze blowing across Cockfield Fell.
On the playing side, Craig Talbot is captain with Lewis Leng second in command.
Shaun Rudd has signed from Evenwood as a replacement for Cliffe-bound Ben Howe.
King James will begin their third season in the dale after moving from Bishop Auckland to Ingleton.
Captain Dennis Gorton said the village had embraced the return of cricket to the playing field and continued to offer great support to the club.
King James will pick up where they left off in 2019, having been promoted from the C division along with Lands.
Dennis reports everything is in fine fettle with the team, but like many others, they could do with one or two more additions to the squad.
Etherley CC fly the flag for the dale in a C division which can boast just six teams this season, with each side playing the others four times.
It is not an ideal situation and has the league’s executive committee has already begun thinking about the league structure from 2022 onwards.
But such thoughts are a long way off as village cricketers across south Durham look forward to dusting off the kit bag and hoping they still fit into their whites for the start of another season.
A division: Aldbrough St John v Middleton St George; Catterick v Raby Castle; Cockewrton v East Cowton; Haughton v West Park; Witton le Wear v Barningham.
B division: Barton v Haughton II; Cliffe II v Oxbridge; Lands v Spennymoor; Middleton-in-Teesdale v King James; Raby Castle II v Eryholme.
C Division: Middleton St George II v Barton II.