WHITBURN and South Shields squeezed out honourable draws on the opening day of the season and, with two of the other Dukes North East Premier League Premier Division games also finishing in stalemate, it was left to Chester-le-Street and Stockton to fly the victory flag.
The Cestrians were in majestic form with the bat at Eastwood Gardens, racing to a 50-over total of 276-4 before declaring and giving themselves 70 overs to winkle out hosts Gateshead Fell.
This attacking policy paid rich dividends as the home team battled bravely before eventually succumbing after 59 overs at the crease.
George Harrison was the rock upon which the Chester innings was built, his opening 73 from 103 balls laying the perfect foundation from which ex-skipper Quentin Hughes (51 from 66 balls) and current captain John Coxon (66 not out from 50 balls) launched a fruitful assault.
Fell spent much of 2014 looking certainties for the drop until an end-of-season miracle somehow saved their skins, but they made the Ropery Lane men work for their win, reaching 88-1, and then 165-4.
Robert Stacey was the main stumbling block, a 124-ball knock of 68 looking to have the potential to thwart the visitors, but his departure heralded a collapse as the final six wickets went down for 44 runs, that man Hughes engineering Gateshead’s downfall with a 16-over spell of five for 56.
South Shields’ return to the top flight after one year away produced a keenly contested match at Wood Terrace, where Hetton Lyons (252-6) were almost overtaken by Shields (241-9) with each side spending 60 overs at the crease.
The irrepressible Allan Worthy, aiming to be the first man in Premier League history to reach 10,000 runs, knocked another 119 off the steadily reducing target. He batted throughout the Lyons innings, hitting 12 fours and four sixes in his undefeated knock.
With Gary Scott adding a half century, it was only Andrew Elliott’s five wickets which kept Hetton in check.
For much of the run chase, victory looked a distinct possibility for Shields as Tim David (85) and Gordon Muchall (62) shared a fruitful second-wicket partnership, but, when they departed, a steady flow of wickets eventually squeezed their ambition and skipper Chris Rainbow (30 not out) had to stand firm as a late collapse ended with avoidance of defeat the main priority.
The boot was on the other foot at Whitburn, where visitors Blaydon mucked up their run chase to end on 188-7 when in pursuit of a target of 190 set by their hosts.
Lee Henderson was the home star, making 96 from 185 balls. It was just as well he did as the next top scorer had just 25 as Ryan Buckley (4-67 from 17 overs) and Graeme Bridge (1-23 from 20 overs) put the squeeze on.
At 156-4 in the reply, there looked to be only one outcome, but then Mark Drake (67) fell and the Blaydon race to the line was halted, 10 runs from the last over proving two too many.
Durham Academy scored 222 at the Emirates ICG, and Benwell Hill replied with 149-6 from more than 20 overs fewer, the game ending early with the Hill gaining more points for their endeavours.
Adam Hickey cracked a run-a-ball 62 for the youngsters, but his was a rare show of attacking endeavour as Matty Muchall (6-66) turned the screw. Gavin Main (4-23) then took out the top four Hill batters before bad light caused an early closure with 18 overs still to play.
Tynemouth (70 all out) were completely undone by Keaton Jennings at Stockton (275-8 dec). The Durham man batted throughout the 58 overs of the home innings to end on 105 from 112 balls, then he blew away the Tynemouth resistance with a nine-over spell that produced figures of five for 17.
In the day’s other game, champions South North (175-8) were held to a draw by Newcastle (193).