ONE match stands out above all the rest in the Premier Division tomorrow, the Fortfield tussle between leaders Exeter and Sidmouth.
Sidmouth were top until they lost at Bradninch last time out, which allowed Exeter AND Heathcoat to go past them.
After walloping Exmouth by 226 runs last time out, Exeter top the table on 224 points with Heathcoat (220) second and Sidmouth (217) in third. Plymouth (202) are a relatively distant fourth.
Exeter can’t win the title by winning tomorrow, but Sidmouth will be probably be out of the running if they lose.
Exeter’s Somerset and England U19 all-rounder Tom Lammonby is now out of the protective boot he was wearing due to a heel injury, but not cleared to play yet.
Seamer Tom Pedel is missing, as is James Bovey. Dom Tuohey and the in-form Pete Hensor come in.
Sidmouth skipper Luke Bess is fit to play having recovered from the leg injury that ruled him out of Devon’s game against Berkshire earlier in the week.
County captain Josh Bess is at a wedding, but seamer Scott Barlow is home from London for the weekend and will play.
Exmouth have rung the changes for the home game against Bovey Tracey.
Vice-captain Callum French has taken over as skipper from Bob Dawson, who was caretaker captain after Richard Baggs stepped down to the 2nd XI earlier this season.
“Now we are out of the hunt we are looking to the future,” said French.
Exmouth are shorthanded this week across the club for one reason or another, meaning lots of stepping up.
The 1st XI are without Sandy Allen and Alvin Pollard, among others. James Horler and Ollie Pugsley step up and former Dorset captain Stuart Rintoul – 51 next birthday – makes an appearance in the batting order.
Bovey Tracey welcome back Lewis Hammett and Andy Fairbairn in for seamers Ash Causey and Chris Yabsley who are at Boardmasters.
“Once again, we're short on bowling but will try our utmost to bowl to decent plans and fields to restrict Exmouth as much as possible,” said skipper Toby Codd.
Heathcoat go into their game against visiting Plymouth with spinner Jack Menheneott back and available for the rest of the season.
Menheneott is Heathcoat’s leading wicket taker with 29 at 17.69 each – and that is from 10 games not the full 14.
Batter Sam Smith is not available so Menheneott comes in as a straight swap.
Plymouth make two changes to the side that routed North Devon last time out.
Hal Kerton and Adam Talbott are both away. James Burke and Tom Hughes are in.
Hatherleigh will be playing for their Premier Division survival when fellow strugglers Bradninch are the Saturday afternoon visitors to Holsworthy Road.
That’s the stark point of view made by skipper Mark Lake after a 45-run defeat by fellow strugglers Sandford dropped Hatherleigh into the bottom two.
Bradninch, who were beneath Hatherleigh, beat former leaders Sidmouth to move out of the bottom two.
The eight-nine-ten in the basement is Bradninch (140pts), Hatherleigh (121) and Sandford (119). To stay out of the bottom two, Lake says Hatherleigh can’t lose to Bradninch.
“It's simply a win and nothing less will do,” said Lake.
“There's no reason why we can't beat Bradninch.
“If we lose it will be near on impossible to stay up.”
Losing won’t drag Bradninch back into the bottom two immediately, but with Exeter (top), Exmouth (5th) and Plymouth (4th) to come it would ramp up the pressure.
“We have our strongest team available to us with Chaps and Charlie Sheen both back and Dan Hardy being around in Devon for a change,” said Ninch vice-captain Tim Piper.
“If we can't beat Hatherleigh with that team, then we've had a pretty bad day.”
Bottom side Sandford host North Devon knowing anything other than a win could finish them off.
Sandford are 22 points from safety already and that could ramp up to the late 30s if Bradninch win at Hatherleigh. With 60 points left to play for after this round of games, that would not be a good position to be in.
“We know the situation is not good, but all we can do is try and win games and stay in touch right till the end,” said Sandford captain Richard Foan, who has names the same side that beat Hatherleigh last time out.
“Having the same team is great news finally getting some consistency with selection which is helping performances on the pitch.
Players are finding roles in the team and contributing feels like we are understanding what it takes to win games at this level.”
North Devon, who have won five of the last 10 games, are probably safe from the threat of relegation thanks to 43-point safety net. One more win would clear any worries.
Matt Westaway, the North Devon captain, said: “It's nice to be back at Instow after two tough away fixtures at Exeter and Plymouth.
“I am expecting a tough encounter as Sandford will be desperate to get something from the game due to their league position.
“I have asked the guys to prepare well and they've responded.
“We're now looking forward to a good, competitive game of cricket.”
North Devon are without the Popham brothers, who are both at a wedding.