AFTER all the hullabaloo of the last couple of years, a new era for the region’s club cricket has arrived with the Durham Cricket League opening its playing doors for the first time this afternoon.
Twenty-six clubs gathered together primarily from the old Durham Senior, Coast, and County leagues will do battle for the first time. The teams will play each other once and at the end of the season the top 14 will form a new first division, with the bottom 12 making up a second division.
Despite ten clubs from those old leagues forming the new NEPL First Division, all the 2012 champion teams will feature in the new DCL, which should make for an intriguing first season as all the different cricketing styles and cultures clash in a format that is a mix of all three.
Senior League champions Burnmoor will be among the favourites to do well, and with South African quickie Brandon Scullard back again, and outstanding batsman Paul Riddle having joined from Hetton Lyons, they will be one of those setting the standard.
Esh Winning were regular winners at County League level and they swamped most opposition last year when securing the title again, but they have lost influential players John Carmedy and Eddie Watson who have moved to Brandon.
This year's 'pro' is Pakistani Jalat Khan, a left-handed all-rounder who has decent first-class stats, while Sean Walker is the only other signing.
Murton's Coast League championship success was built mainly on the prowess of their bowling unit, and that has been bolstered by the addition of Alex Ludlow from Seaham Park. Dave Hanson will skipper the side, and crucially he has leading bowler Jon Sample to back him up again.
The fourth champion team plying their trade in the new structure are Whiteleas. They won the NE Durham League last year so it's quite a step up the regional ladder for them, but they clearly have no intention of just making up the numbers having signed Kris McShane, Michael Dunn, Rob Scorer and Craig Jones from South Shields, and also invested in overseas talent by bringing in Indian all-rounder Sunzow Brahma.
The old Senior League brigade will be expected to challenge strongly for the top 14 placings and several have new overseas stars boosting their ranks. Marsden have secured the services of South African fast bowler Zakhele Ncube, Castle Eden have picked up former Hetton Lyons man Kamran Shah, and Durham will hand young Aussie Nick Maiolo the chance to impress.
Philadelphia have recruited strongly, brothers Gary and Lee Innes heading a list of four newcomers which also includes Burnopfield's David Baxter, Horden have brought in Carl Watson who will also skipper the team, andKimblesworth include a returning Colin Myers among five new faces.
Three of those came from a depletedLangley Park, although there has been little movement at several other of the old County League contingent, with Shildon, Ushaw Moor and Evenwood little changed.
Tudhoe's acquisition of Danny Thexton from Crook will help their challenge which will once again be headed by West Indian Shawn Findlay, while Crook have used the Steve Chapman connection to secure the services of Melbourne quickie David Embleton. Mainsforth may be the surprise package with six new signings led by Muhammad Nawaz.
Bill Quay will have their first ever overseas professional in Zimbabwean Deven Bell, Seaham Park welcome Indian Parvez Aziz, Alan Mustard skippers Hylton, Kamran Mansoor will play at Easington and Boldon CA will unveil West Indian Alvenis Simon.