SUNDERLAND’S battling performance at South Northumberland last week not only went a long way to securing their own top-flight future, it breathed some belated life into the Dukes North East Premier League Premier Division title race, with the Bulls’ lead over Hetton Lyons reduced to 33 points.
While the Ashbrooke men managed to do Hetton a good turn, they reciprocated in full by hammering a very substantial nail into the Gateshead Fell relegation coffin and restricting their stricken opponents to just three points. That combination of results mean Sunderland will be safe come Saturday night if they can show the same sort of spirit in their Ashbrooke encounter with Blaydon as they now have a 39-point advantage over the bottom club.
The feature of Hetton’s victory was another superb performance from Pakistani Lal Kumar, who blasted 146 from 126 balls, including rocketing from 100 to 146 in just 12 balls, before going on to claim another couple of wickets.
The performance lifted the all-rounder above the 500 league runs milestone, and took him to within 60 of reaching the 1,000-run mark in all games, which would equal his 2013 return for the Lilywhite Terrace club.
He has already matched his overall return of 58 wickets from last season and now needs just five more to achieve the “mini double” of 500 league runs and 50 league wickets.
Unsurprisingly, the club were keen to get him signed up for a third year, and those negotiations have just been concluded, with his return now confirmed.
Kumar (pictured, inset) will take his place in the home line-up for Saturday’s match against Whitburn in which the Lyons will once again have little option but to go for a maximum points return.
Allan Worthy returns from holiday to boost the home ranks, but Ryan Pringle is uncertain because of Durham commitments, while both Rob Talbot and Steven Errington are working. Whitburn also have major doubts over the availability of their Durham player, Paul Coughlin, and Mark Thursby is promoted to replace the unavailable Harry Thursby.
South North will want to erase the doubts that the draw with Sunderland created by disposing of a Durham Academy side who have had a tough league season, winning just once all summer.
They have drawn 13 of their matches, though, and have shown the ability to make life difficult for their opponents on a regular basis. The Bulls go into the match with a full-strength line-up.
Sunderland’s home game with Blaydon presents an opportunity to finally banish all relegation concerns, and with last week’s battling line-up boosted by the addition of Chris Watson then they should have the personnel to give their fourth-placed opponents a run for their money. Craig Wallis misses this game for the visitors, but Joe Reynolds is set to return.
Chester-le-Street hope to maintain the uplift in form that has seen them turn in some of their best performances of late, albeit leaving it until the latter part of the summer, and they should have an unchanged side for the visit of Benwell Hill.
Alistair Shields returns for Newcastle after missing half the season climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, and he replaces James Carr in the side to host Tynemouth, who are able to include Marcus Turner, Ben McGee and Phil Morse.
H Durham’s over-50 county side are one game away from a memorable double. The veterans set off for Kibworth on Saturday, staying overnight before meeting Essex the following day in a re-run of the 2013 50+ County Championship final which Durham won.