Five clubs are set for a sprint to the tape – with a mere 13 points separating them going into the final month of the season.
Favourites all along, Portsmouth & Southsea led with 219 points, ten ahead of Longparish and Lymington (both 209), and 13 clear of fourth placed Ryde. Outsiders Ropley are tucked in behind.
Remaining games -
Portsmouth & Southsea (219 points): Ryde (h), OTs & Romsey II (a), Burridge II (h), St Cross Symondians III (h).
Longparish (209): Burridge II (a), St Cross Symondians III (h), Sarisbury Athletic II (a), Rowledge II (h).
Lymington II (209): Bishops Waltham (h), New Milton II (a), Fareham & Crofton (h), Hook & Newnham Basics II (a).
Ryde (206): Portsmouth & Southsea (a), Shrewton (h), Ropley (a), Bishops Waltham (h).
Ropley (194): Fareham & Crofton (h), Ventnor II (a), Ryde (h), OTs & Romsey II (a).
Longparish opener Will de Cani is optimistic the Test Valley village club can achieve a remarkable third successive promotion which began from County Division 3 North.
“But I think it’s Portsmouth & Southsea’s title to lose,” he believes.
“We thrashed them earlier in the season, but they are ten points ahead going into tomorrow’s match and if they beat Ryde it will be difficult for anyone to catch them.”
De Cani also thinks Lymington II, with their high powered batting line-up, are a major threat.
“They’ve got some really strong players and if someone like Billy Quigley or Terry Crabb comes off, they are going to score a lot of runs,” he forecast.
Whether Lymington want to go up – and reclaim the Southern Premier League Division 3 spot they lost on the final day of last season – remains to be seen
Alongside making big scores and taking wickets, Quigley, their influential Melbourne based all-rounder, is hugely involved in coaching Lymington’s youngsters.
If Lymington seconds were to go up, current SPL regulations would preclude them re-hiring Quigley – or any other overseas player – to the detriment of their thriving colts section.
Ryde, in fourth spot prior to visiting Portsmouth & Southsea, may also be reluctant to dip their toes into Premier League cricket so soon after their 2016 debacle.
They managed to win only one of their 15 SPL3 matches last season and, with much the same squad of players, something similar could easily happen again.
Fifth placed Ropley, with Ryde still to play, may need the lead pack to experience a few unexpected results if they are to gate crash the promotion party.
Ropley are scheduled to host Fareham & Crofton tomorrow, with Western Australian teen Reece Abrams desperate for a return to action for the visitors.
He broke a bone in his right hand at Hythe four weeks ago and, despite being fit again, hasn’t been able to play due to the wet weather.
At least the 17-year old has been able to put his free time to good use – by learning to bake cakes !
Meanwhile, the bottom of County 1 doesn’t make pleasant reading for a plethora of second teams struggling for survival.
Rowledge and Sarisbury Athletic, with only one win each, look goners – and United Services could go with them. They too have only one win and have points to make up on New Milton, who can pull clear of the danger zone by beating Rowledge tomorrow.