IT’S crunch time for Sunderland as they face up to their biggest challenges of the Dukes North East Premier League season over the next couple of weeks.
The Wearsiders began the campaign back in April with a poor performance against Durham Academy, but, after getting that quickly out of their system, they have notched up four consecutive victories in May.
Each one has shown a growing confidence about their cricket that suggests this is their best chance of honours since they won the championship back in the Premier Leagie’s inaugural season in 2000.
But June presents a new challenge. Skipper Dan Shurben explained: “I couldn’t have asked for much more at this stage in the league, but the next fortnight is crucial and will determine how our season may pan out.
“We have South North this week and Chester away next week. But we are in good form and hope to keep our momentum going.”
Saturday’s match against the champions is at Ashbrooke and the good news for home supporters is that the leaders will have a full-strength side in the field, with Chris Rushworth being confirmed as available.
South North have unusually shown some frailties this year, with two defeats in their opening six games, but it would be unwise to underestimate their squad and they, too, have their best team out for this one.
On-form Blaydon present the biggest threat to Sunderland’s leadership and they are in the mood to exploit Hetton Lyons’ injury woes when they travel south on Saturday.
There is some good news for Lyons in that Shaun Birbeck and Gary Adey will definitely return for this one, but there remain significant doubts over whether Ryan Pringle and skipper John Tindale will make it.
Blaydon will give broken elbow victim Chris Varley his first league outing after he came through a couple of cup matches with flying colours.
Chester-le-Street are the “away” team when they welcome the Durham Academy to Ropery Lane on Saturday, and home comforts could prove important as they look to continue a run of three successive league victories.
Fraser Campbell has now left to play his cricket in London and Chester skipper Quentin Hughes will not know about Scott Borthwick until later in the week.
Alan Mustard and Chris Martin both scored well for the seconds last week and are in contention for first-team slots.
Benwell Hill entertain fellow strugglers Gateshead Fell, with the unusual scenario of two professional brothers facing each other, with the home team’s Zohaib Khan set for sibling rivalry with Fell’s Shoaib. Ollie Durrell and Tim Raglan are drafted into Fell’s team.
Mid-table South Shields are yet to name their team for the trip to Newcastle, while Tynemouth take on Stockton, who are likely to miss Durham’s latest pace discovery, Jamie Harrison, because of county commitments.
The next round of T20 ties takes place tomorrow, with Sunderland at Benwell Hill, Chester entertaining Hetton Lyons, South Shields hosting South North and Durham Academy at Tynemouth.