SUNDERLAND’S much-improved showing against Newcastle last week not only brought to an end a dismal run of form, but also held out hope of better things to come in the second half of the Dukes North East Premier League Premier Division season.
The availability of Usman Arshad was a big factor, of course, as the Durham bowler had only played one other game for the Ashbrooke club, and that was back in May when he was unable to bowl.
Arshad showed his true worth in the Newcastle match, taking 4-33 in 12 overs, and then scoring 70 as the Wearsiders came within a whisker of successfully chasing down a target of 213.
But the main talking point was the sensational debut of unknown quantity Sajad Ali, who made a huge difference, bowling 15 overs to claim three wickets, and then going on to blast seven fours and four sixes in a rousing innings of 80, scored from just 67 balls.
Ali has joined Sunderland via an introduction from Chris Peareth who he played with in Yorkshire last year when the pair turned out for Bilton in the Airedale and Wharfedale League.
The unfortunate thing for Sunderland is that Ali will not be available every week, and he misses this week’s Ashbrooke encounter with Benwell Hill.
Also unavailable is another of last week’s debutants, Mustahsan Shah, but Chris Dorothy and Chris Watson do return from holiday, and Arshad is expected to be available again.
Chester-le-Street’s great win over Hetton Lyons has also perked them up.
Having put a spoke in the championship aspirations of one of the title challengers they get the chance to do the same this week to their rival for honours, South North.
The Cestrians travel to Roseworth Terrace with a pleasant selection dilemma as, with David Foster returning and Chris Martin hitting a century for the seconds last time out, the squad is at full strength with some tough decisions needed.
But the embarrassment of playing riches could not have come at a better time as Sunday brings the Banks Salver semi-final, with Chester making the trip to Hetton for the second time in nine days.
For the Lyons, it’s another hectic weekend. Before the Salver showdown, they face a re-arranged T20 match with Durham Academy tomorrow night, and then they travel to Tynemouth on Saturday to try to get their title challenge back on track. The good news is that they also have a full squad to pick from in yet another make or break weekend.
Whitburn’s victory over champions Stockton was also a great tonic and sets them up nicely for their T20 home game against South North tomorrow night, and the league match against Durham Academy on Saturday.
The Villagers make one enforced change with Ross Carty away, Paul Shields coming in to replace him.
Tynemouth have Graeme Hallam and Andrew Smith returning in place of Jamie Coates and Finn Lonnberg for their clash with unchanged South North.
Newcastle show three changes for their home game against Gateshead Fell.
Dan Humble, Steve Pinnington and Jon Richardson come in for James Carding, David Coverdale and Gary Johnson. Unfortunately for the bottom side, Mark Lockey has a broken wrist and will miss a significant portion of the remainder of Fell’s season.
Blaydon entertain Stockton, whose defeat at Whitburn ended all hopes of reclaiming the title they won so convincingly last season. They have skipper Kevin Ward back from suspension, and Jamie Harrison is available, although batsman Keaton Jennings is required by Durham.