THE promotion race in the Association division is hotting up, despite Saturday’s damp squib.

Not a ball was bowled due to rain across the five fixtures, top or bottom.

It means only six points separate the top three sides as leaders Atherton, Heaton and Eagley battle it out for two places on offer.

There is only one point between Heaton in second and Eagley in third, and a blockbuster clash between the two sides is only three weeks away at the former’s Lower Pools home.

Heaton also travel to Atherton in the final round of fixtures on September 14.

“I’m just excited about the next few weeks – all the lads are,” said Heaton captain Ollie Sutcliffe after Saturday’s rain-off at Tonge.

“We’re looking forward to the Eagley game and playing Astley Bridge as well. That game is not this weekend but the one after that.

“We didn’t play either of them in the first half of the season because of the rain, and they would have been good games.”

The Heaton v Eagley fixture on August 17 may come a touch too early for it to be classed as a promotion decider, but it is safe to say the winner will take a giant step towards next season’s Premiership.

Prolific batsman Sutcliffe believes the Association has taken on a different complexion since the early stages of the summer, which is also like to be a significant factor in the final standings.

“The division has definitely tightened up, with teams who were struggling at the start of the year really kicking on,” he said.

“Blackrod and Daisy Hill, for example, have both had some good wins over the last few weeks.”

Blackrod are the prime example. Amidst early season struggles with availability, they were bowled out for just 44 by Heaton in mid-May.

But last week, they gained revenge by claiming a one-run win having set a target of 194. Hosts Heaton slipped from 101-2 to 192 all out, with Blackrod now sitting fourth in the table.

Sutcliffe said: “The difference in that Blackrod game was just a bit of luck. It was a one-run defeat, so I couldn’t really put it down to anything else. It was just one of those things.

“They played really well.

“Tushy (Thushendra De Zoysa) and their deputy pro (Shashrika Pussegolla) bowled really well. They got nine wickets between them and both got 50.

“It was such a small margin, so it was a frustrating day. But we’re still second – it’s in our hands. We’re just concentrating on what we can do rather than worrying about anyone else.”

Sutcliffe is enjoying a fine personal season with the bat, with his haul of 292 runs the sixth best in the division. But others such as pro Harsha Rajapaksha (262 runs and 28 wickets) and Darshan Varsani (25 wickets) are also contributing heavily.

“I’ve had a good season, and I’ve said it before that it definitely helps my captaincy when I’m scoring runs,” added Sutcliffe. “We’re having a good season.

“Everyone’s chipped in, the pro’s having an excellent season, and it’s the sign of a good team.”