Spirits high as Sunderland eye more progress

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SUNDERLAND have well and truly put to bed their opening-day batting horrors and could be in the mood to cause a few nightmares for opponents after surging 19 points clear at the top of the Dukes North East Premier League.

Just a few short weeks ago, the Wearsiders slumped to 49-7 before the weather intervened to save them, and the elements also had a say in last week’s match at Tynemouth, but with dramatically different results.

The first innings was reduced to 34 overs after a delayed start and, unsurprisingly, when the hosts won the toss they asked Sunderland to bat – a decision they quickly came to regret as it became the proverbial batting rags to riches story for the visitors.

Dan Shurben put on a spectacular show as he crushed the home attack, smashing 144 from just 101 balls, with South African professional Patrick Botha conceding 67 runs from his nine overs. It was then over to the deadly duo of Kieran Waterson and Chris Rushworth, who once again combined to bowl out opponents whose minds had become fixed on a draw.

Sunderland now have the chance to consolidate their lead as they enjoy the home comforts of Ashbrooke when they play Stockton on Saturday, the only real doubt in selection terms being the availability of Durham bowler Rushworth with a CB40 match scheduled for The Oval.

But that could be balanced out by the fact that County duty is also an issue for the visitors, with quickie Jamie Harrison doing well on his senior Durham debut last Sunday.

Sunderland’s only other change is that Chris Youldon should be fit to resume his keeping duties, having played as an “outfielder” last week.

As well as hitting the top last week, Sunderland also advanced to the second round of the national club cup courtesy of a bowl-out win over Benwell Hill after the re-scheduled match was abandoned due to the waterlogged ground at Ashbrooke.

They now go straight into second round action on Sunday when their new-found confidence is set to be fully tested at South North.

Hetton Lyons’ promising start to the season came to a juddering halt with defeat at South Shields last week, and they now have to face champions South North without the services of one of their leading batsmen, Shaun Birbeck, who is due to have a knee operation tomorrow.

South North are at full strength.

Durham Academy are back at the Emirates ICG on Saturday, with South Shields likely to provide a test for the youngsters.

The Shieldsmen have won two games on the trot, a welcome change after their struggles of 2011, and they select from the same squad of 13 who were successful against the Lyons last time out. So far, the Academy have been injury free and able to maintain a settled line-up.

In Saturday’s other games, Chester-le-Street are at Benwell Hill, the only doubt for them being over Scott Borthwick’s availability, Blaydon face an unchanged Gateshead Fell, and the bottom two clash at Preston Avenue, with hosts Tynemouth expecting to include the returning Ivo Hobson and Rory Cox against Newcastle.