THE Dukes North East Premier League Premier Division championship looks set to become a two-horse race between South Northumberland and Hetton Lyons after their main challengers suffered major setbacks on Saturday.
The top two themselves changed the big picture, leaving Benwell Hill and the defending champions, Stockton, almost out in the cold.
While South North defeated Hill by 64 runs, the Lyons roared so effectively that they toppled the Teessiders even more impressively.
Their hopes of retaining the title nose-dived as Hetton chased a target of 210 to win by six wickets, giving cause for a double celebration in their dressing room.
Veteran opening batsman Allan Worthy became the first player in Premier League history to reach 9,000 league runs when he scored a half-century in giving his side a match-winning start to their innings.
Stockton, who elected to bat first after calling the coin toss correctly, were pinned down by an accurate home attack in which Lal Kumar (4-49 in 20 overs) was again outstanding.
Ryan Pringle also kept the visitors under pressure, finishing with two wickets in a 15-over spell costing just 49 runs.
The highly talented Richard Waite kept Stockton in the game with 85 from 125 balls, including 11 fours, and there were useful contributions from Jamie Harrison (49) and Josh Bousefield (32) before their side reached 210-9 with a declaration after 60 overs.
But, as good a target as it was, Hetton won their run chase, topping Stockton’s score with just four wickets lost in 53 overs.
Worthy’s 56 was his side’s best effort, but Pringle (54), with whom he shared a partnership of 81, also showed why he’s a Durham County player. Jarvis Clay (38) and Shaun Birbeck (25) saw Lyons over the line with undefeated knocks.
Hetton trimmed a couple of points off South North’s lead, now just 14, and there will be great anticipation over the result when the two meet in a month’s time. Their first clash was drawn last month.
Whitburn won for only the second time, defeating Newcastle by three wickets in a game in which more than 500 runs were scored.
The Tynesiders were 2-2 in the opening exchanges, but then Jacques du Toit smashed 10 fours and three sixes in a top-scoring 82, and despite a fine effort from Craig Smith (6-55 from 20 overs) the visitors reached 258-9 in their 65 overs. Tim Hughes added 49 and Graham Clark 46, while Michael Bittlestone grabbed 2-38.
Whitburn’s run chase began steadily, but then the tempo was upped by Paul Coughlin (70 from 80 balls), and Ross Carty (52), who paved the way for skipper Andy Turns to blast 42 not out from 40 balls, with five fours and two sixes, and secure a tremendous win with just five balls of the match remaining. Stuart Walker hit five boundaries in his 27, and Bittlestone managed four in his 15-ball knock of 20.
Sunderland will be examining what’s gone wrong with their form after losing their fourth game on the trot.
They were defeated at Ashbrooke by Tynemouth, who have moved two places and 50 points above them in the league ratings.
Matty Brown and Andrew Smith both hit superb centuries as Tynemouth made 275 for the loss of just three wickets, but Sunderland’s batting flopped in reply and they were all out for a paltry 136, conceding defeat by 139 runs.
Chris Peareth (23), Paul Jenkin (22) and David Hill (22) were Sunderland’s top runmakers.
Durham Academy lost their second successive game when Blaydon grabbed maximum points and moved into third place.
Adam Hickey’s 31 was the top individual contribution in an all-out score of 146, which was in response to Blaydon’s 260-6 declared. New Zealander Ken McClure hit a magnificent 163-ball century to inspire the hosts.
There was a surprise drawn finish as Chester-le-Street (240-5) failed to bowl out bottom club, Gateshead Fell (223-9), and had to settle for a share of the spoils.
Andrew Smith (76 off 57 balls with 10 fours and two sixes), Simon Birtwisle (66) and George Harrison (49) impressed with the bat for Chester, but Sam Roseby (86no) and Adam Whatley (71) were defiant for Fell. Liam Simpson battled gamely to grab 5-91, backed by two wickets from Callum Thorp.