HIGH-FLYING Sunderland stayed on top of the NEPL with their fifth win of the season as the rain stayed away long enough for a full programme of games to be completed for the first time in three weekends.
Despite their two previous blanks, it took the Wearsiders no time at all to get back into the swing of things when they paid a visit to Benwell Hill. And as they won at a gallop by eight wickets they had a trio of bowlers, including a newcomer, to thank for leading the way.
Fresh from county duty, Chris Rushworth returned to lead his club attack with two early wickets as their lowly rivals slumped to 16-5, and were ultimately bowled out for just 63.
Ruel Brathwaite had a strange sort of debut, taking two wickets including one of the openers, but conceding ten wides, and his opening burst was limited to three overs.
Kieran Waterson then came on to wrap things up by claiming four wickets. He finished off the Hill innings in his tenth and Sunderland’s 22nd over having conceded just 16 runs.
Benwell would have faced an even bigger rout had it not been for Zohaib Khan, who came to the wicket at number four and as all around him fell apart managed to stay unbeaten on 29 to prevent further humiliation.
Sunderland scored the runs they needed in just 13 overs to stay a point ahead of Blaydon at the top of the table. And it was the ever reliable Ashley Thorpe (29 not out) who made it look easy.
Third-placed Chester-le-Street had an almighty scare on the way to a 29-run win over Tynemouth which kept them right in the thick of the title battle.
The Cestrians were seven down with just 38 on the board, and later 70- 8. But youngster Chris Martin, batting at number seven, was joined by the versatile Graeme Cessford and together they added 67 with Martin unbeaten on 48, with three fours and two sixes, and Cessford making 32, with four boundaries, to get the former champions to a more respectable 139.
Cessford then got to work with the ball to take three wickets in 14 overs, and along with Andrew Bell (3-25) played the major part in bowling out Tynemouth for 110.
Fourth-placed South North collected more points than the three teams above them in their bid to retain the championship crown. They defeated Stockton by 76 runs and are now 26 points behind Sunderland.
Mid-table Hetton Lyons and Durham Academy exchanged places after they met in the Lyons den where the young ‘apprentices’ lost for the first time this season.
A top score of 35 by Jack Clark gave the Academy a chance of success as they posted 145, but Hetton’s extra experience turned the tables and they won by three wickets.
Jonny Malkin stood firm on an undefeated 33 as teenage bowlers, Ryan Buckley (4-57) and James Weighell (3-12) bowled 20 impressive overs between them.
Elsewhere, Blaydon defeated Newcastle to move to within a single point of Sunderland at the top of the table whilst at the other end bottom club Gateshead Fell (110-8) batted out 58 overs to claim a draw against dominant South Shields (217-7) for whom Michael Dunn scored 64 and Kris McShane and Chris Dorothy shared six wickets.