THE fixture list and the weather seem to have conspired to make the start to Sunderland’s first season of second-tier cricket a difficult one.
A high-scoring opening day defeat at the hands of current leaders Brandon was followed by a complete washout, then a closely contested Ashbrooke encounter with second-placed Boldon ended in another defeat, this time by just eight runs, and finally the sequence was upheld last Saturday with another blank.
It’s back to Ashbrooke this weekend, with third-placed Washington the visitors.
Having met the top two teams on home soil in the only matches played, it is nothing more than an early-season coincidence that the weather and fixture dice have fallen in this way, and Sunderland will be keen to ensure they break the sequence with a win over much-fancied near-neighbours.
Skipper Greg Applegarth is waiting to hear whether Usman Arshad will be released by Durham to play this week – they will find out tonight.
His inclusion would be a big boost to the home team, particularly as it would coincide with the delayed debut of Indian Bravesh Shetty.
He arrived in the UK last week and was due to play his first game at South Hetton, but the rain put paid to that.
Joining Shetty in the home dressing room will be the returning Chris Dorothy and Sam Brigham, who is now free from Durham County age group commitments.
Washington have suffered their own frustrations.
Touted by many as potential champions, they won their opening two games and were in a dominant position in the third before it was washed out halfway through, and then they suffered a complete blank last Saturday, with the result that the two teams above them in the table pulled away.
Andy Ebdale does return for Washington this week, but they have to reckon without the services of youngster Matthew Potts with concern over a back injury which has been the subject of scans over the last few days.
Second-placed Boldon will be missing Joe Coyne when they go to Seaham Harbour.
The influential all-rounder is recuperating from an appendix operation he had a week ago and is likely to be missing for three or four weeks.
Gareth Smith is handed an opportunity in his absence.
Boldon also have a concern over Laurence Wood, whose back injury places him in the “doubtful” category, although he will be given every opportunity to prove his fitness.
Harbour jumped ship with their overseas pro a few weeks ago, the delays in paperwork causing them to switch their attentions from their original target to an Indian opening batsman.
His ETA is next Thursday, but the emphasis is on “estimated” as the timing still depends on his visa being granted in time. For this week, Harbour stick with an unchanged side.
The newly-signed university students will be missing from Sacriston’s team to play South Hetton on Saturday, with both Sebastian Stewart-Taylor and Prabodh Kakodkar engrossed in revision for impending exams.
Mark Fort is available again, so comes straight back in, while Tom Bernardo earns a call-up.
Bowler Jonathan Rudolf is also promoted in place of Craig Robertson.
South Hetton have Luke Lang available again, and promising youngsters Nathan Adamson and Alex Nicholson retain their places. Skipper Robbie Atherton is hoping his side will be more competitive this week – they certainly need the points as they are five points adrift at the foot of the table.
Neil Young returns to the Burnmoor team for their game at Tudhoe, who have an injury doubt over Ian Grainger after he was struck on the arm while batting last week.
Eppleton hand a delayed debut to Kamran Shah when they go to Felling, and Brandon enjoy home advantage against Willington as they seek to extend their 20-point lead at the head of the table.