THE ‘county factor’ looks likely to have a major bearing on the NEPL this weekend with the combination of the ODI at the Emirates ICG and Durham’s hectic programme of the next week or so impacting on how teams will line-up.

Whilst the ODI is not till tomorrow both England and Sri Lanka have a hefty requirement for net bowlers today, with the onus on the county to provide both quality and quantity. In addition, Durham set off for Trent Bridge for the county championship match with Notts which begins tomorrow, with 11 of the next 12 days involving match play.

The most dramatic impact has been felt by the Academy side who, just one week after stealing the limelight with Ben Stokes making his playing comeback for them, now find themselves down to the bone with no fewer than eight players helping out in the nets. They have had to trawl far and wide to make up the numbers for the league game at Eastwood Gardens with the ever resourceful Academy manager John Windows bringing a number of players over from Cumbria, including Matty Semple from Egremont, Nathan Waterson from Barrow, and 15-year-old Liam Travaskis from Penrith.

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Opponents Gateshead Fell won’t necessarily mind as they are desperately in need of some light at the end of a relegation tunnel that has grown darker by the week. They are already some 25 points adrift of second bottom Blaydon, but they keep faith with the same line-up that lost heavily at Ashbrooke last weekend.

In addition to the Academy players Ryan Buckley (Blaydon), Andrew Ireland (Tynemouth) and Paul Coughlin (Whitburn) will be amongst those required for Riverside duty, while other teams affected by the call of the county include champions Stockton, who will have to manage without Jamie Harrison and Keaton Jennings for their home game against Newcastle. However, Josh Bousfield does return from injury, although he will only play as a batsman, while Jimmy Ward and Tom Coulthard are also back.

Sunderland have made a decent enough start to their top flight campaign, and remain unbeaten ahead of their game at high flying Hetton Lyons, but even though they have Dan Wilkinson back in the side the loss of their skipper is a big blow. Washington have made a clear statement of intent in the First Division by signing Dan Shurben, and he is set to make his debut in the match of the day in that league when Brandon visit Vigo Lane.

Shurben ranks as one of the leading players in the NEPL having scored not far short of 8000 Premier Division runs, a record that places him third in the all-time run scorers list. He has captained Sunderland in recent years, and played for them in their opening game of the season scoring 84 in a dramatic win at Jesmond. With Sunderland losing several games to the weather he hasn’ t played since and his move has come as something of a surprise.

He goes straight into an already strong team who began their league campaign with a victory on last week’s opening day at Seaham Harbour, and Washington will go into the Brandon match brimming with confidence and at full strength with Darren Hickey set to return. The visitors are also expected to be one of the teams in the hunt for promotion and they, too, are virtually at their optimum with Andrew Walker now recovered from his calf injury, and Matthew Whalley free from school commitments.