ON A day of disaster for Sunderland Cricket Club, defeat at Tynemouth saw the Ashbrooke outfit relegated from the Dukes North East Premier League Premier Division for the first time in their history, and they will now be playing second tier cricket in 2015.
The axe has fallen swiftly, and for that reason it is all the more stunning.
Just 10 days ago, plans were being made for next year’s Premier campaign, with safety virtually guaranteed by the fact that they held an almost unassailable 39-point lead over Gateshead Fell, who had propped up the rest for virtually the whole summer, and only won one match.
With two games to go, against the 2013 champions Stockton and the in-form Chester-le-Street, there was no possible way in which the Fell could escape the dreaded trapdoor this time around after their regular flirtation with relegation in previous seasons.
And even that surprise second win of the campaign against the Teessiders still didn’t set the alarm bells ringing too loudly, as Sunderland still held a massive 18-point lead.
But when the last Saturday came, Sunderland’s world was turned upside down as the Fell pulled off a stunning victory at Ropery Lane, and they stumbled to a defeat at Tynemouth which consigned them to a fate that they hadn’t considered possible just a few days earlier.
Over at Chester, Gateshead won the toss and decided to bat, and from the off they had a steely air of “what have we got to lose” as first Tom Pinkney, with 13 boundaries in his opening 70, gave them something to believe in, and then James Sneller smacked 46 from 38 balls to rescue them from a position of 131-6, enabling them to claim batting points before declaring once they had reached 210-9 in the 58th over.
Even then, there was no sense of impending doom over at Tynemouth as Chester have been scoring runs for fun in recent weeks, with a target of just over 200 seen as cannon fodder to the Cestrians.
Sunderland’s bowlers had been made to toil in their game, with home skipper Ben Debnam making 110 from 162 balls, and Ruhan Pretorius adding 63 to lift the hosts to a 57-over declaration on 268-7.
But, as the second half of each match unfolded, it became clear something dramatic was happening at Ropery Lane as Cameron Oliver turned in the most important bowling spell of his life.
He smashed through Chester’s top order, claiming five wickets as the Cestrians slumped to 40-5, and despite Quentin Hughes (31) trying to resist, his departure to Adam Whatley opened the door to the tail which was destroyed in just 15 balls by Sam Roseby as he bagged 4-8, Chester’s lights going out for 92 in just 22.3 frenetic overs.
Word quickly spread to Tynemouth that the unthinkable had happened, but by this time Sunderland were already up against it, having lost both openers for ducks and then seen a fightback, in which Arsalan Rahim made 50, nipped in the bud by David Hymers with the Wearsiders seemingly down and out on 107-7.
Nothing but victory could save Sunderland now, and Mattie Dench (64 not out) and Ian Stephenson (42) briefly ignited hopes that the impossible might be achievable – after all the Fell could do it!
But the end came with nine overs remaining and Sunderland 29 agonising runs short, the seven points they gained from the match leaving them four adrift of an ecstatic Gateshead.
Everything else that went on in the other four matches seemed of little consequence to the happenings at Chester and Tynemouth, but for the record newly-installed champions South North knocked off a mammoth 321-9 in just 48 overs to defeat local rivals Benwell Hill, and Hetton Lyons, Blaydon, and Newcastle were all last-day victors.