SUNDERLAND are just one step away from an appearance in the Banks Salver final, but it’s a significant step as their opponents are the apparently invincible Chester-le-Street.
The pair meet at Ropery Lane on Sunday in the semi-final, with the Cestrians still firing on all four fronts after their victory in the national club regional final at South North last Sunday.
Sunderland’s main aim this season was to try to find consistency, but, at the exact halfway point of the campaign, a league record of four wins and five losses suggests they have yet to shake off that tag.
The Wearsiders are nestled comfortably in mid-table, but with any title aspirations long since gone, so the Salver represents their main route to success.
Run-scoring has been a bit of a problem for the Ashbrooke outfit, skipper Ashley Thorpe stands seventh in the league charts with 347 at an average of 39, but other contributions have been spasmodic, so it was good for the club to see Danny Shurben and Michael Turns hitting form in last week’s win.
On the attacking front, Kieran Waterson, who joined from Hetton Lyons in the close season, heads the wicket-taking charts, and Chris Rushworth also figures prominently despite missing a few games through County duties.
With the other new signing, Chris Hooker, at last getting among the wickets, the bowling unit could be starting to gel.
But Chester provide the most formidable obstacle to Sunderland’s Salver ambitions, being unbeaten in the league as well as progressing in all the cups.
The first national round of the club cup is not until July 17, when they entertain Merseyside outfit Northern, so they have clear minds as they look to retain the Salver.
Chester begin their weekend with a league match at Gateshead Fell, who are now in serious trouble at the bottom of the table after falling 15 points behind South Shields, and the Cestrians have a full squad available, with Alan Mustard returning to action after injury with a run out in the seconds.
Sunderland’s only team change is the inclusion of Tom Skilbeck for Dan Woolston as they begin their weekend with a home league game against old rivals South Shields.
Hetton Lyons were in free-scoring form last week, with Shaun Birbeck’s second century of the season pushing him up into second place in the league’s batting rankings.
He needs just 42 more to become only the second to reach the 500 milestone, and gets his chance at Denton Bank on Saturday when a full-strength Lyons take on tough opponents in Benwell Hill.
Durham Academy make one of their rare appearances at the Emirates ICG when they entertain a Newcastle team still smarting from losing their unbeaten record last week. Leading runscorer Michael Richardson, Durham’s second-choice wicketkeeper, will relish the chance to play on his “home” ground.
In Saturday’s other games, Tynemouth miss Barry Stewart because of a hamstring problem, so Josh Koen plays at Blaydon in his place, while Jimmy Miller is a fitness doubt for South North at home to Stockton.