DURHAM clinched the County Championship in dramatic fashion – snatching a draw in a nerve-shredding final match of the campaign against title rivals Northumberland.
Following impressive victories over Cheshire, Leicester, Lancashire and Derbyshire, Durham – represented by Darren McVitie, Marc Cotton, John Williamson, Allan Thompson and Shirley Gelder – were lying top of the league.
They knew going into their final match of the championship that a draw against second-placed arch-rivals Northumberland would secure the title.
Durham, once again unable to draw upon the services of Keith Weatherby (unavailable) and Chris Blake (injured), chose to field McVitie, Cotton, Williamson and brought in Lynne Herrington in a tactical move in place of Gelder.
Herrington secured the Ladies County Closed Championships the previous weekend and Durham hoped that her rich vein of form would continue into the title decider.
Northumberland, meanwhile, brought in the talented Eddie Smith (ranked 18 in England) and were also bolstered by former Durham player Dave Robson, with Jim Stamas completing the men’s line up, while Karen Henry retained her place.
On paper, Northumberland had the stronger side, but Durham – who have excellent team spirit, work ethic and determination, coupled with tactical support from former England players Tony and Shirley Gelder – were out to secure the draw they desired.
First up were McVitie and Northumberland’s Robson, both players ranked in the top 50 in England, with McVitie previously representing the country as a junior.
Both players looked quite nervy from the outset, with Robson, looking to dominate rallies with his backhand drives and blocks, comfortably taking the first game 11-4.
McVitie dug deep, tightened his serve and his own receipt of service to take the second 11-5.
Both players looked to bring into play their attacking flair at every opportunity.
Robson took the third and led the fourth 10-9 before calling for a time-out.
The move proved costly with McVitie returning an outright winner from Robson’s service before going on to win the end and take the match into the fifth and deciding end.
McVitie finally took the tie by the scruff of the neck to eventually edge the game 3-2 and hand Durham the perfect start.
Williamson doubled Durham’s lead when he edged an excellent game against Stamas to win 3-2 (11-5 in the fifth). Smith then showed his class when he beat Cotton to pull a set back for Northumberland.
Next up saw the first of the sets. Durham paired McVitie and Herrington, and they ran out convincing winners against Robson and Henry in straight sets to take a 3-1 lead.
With Robson beating Williamson to cut Northumberland’s deficit to 3-2, the next set saw the two women pitched against each other.
Both players were conscious of the importance of the set.
As expected, the set turned out to be a very nervy affair with neither playing to their normal high standard. Henry won the first two games 12-10 and 11-9 before Herrington eventually came into form to take the third 11-7.
But Henry dug deep to edge the fourth to and tie the match at 3-3.
In the men’s doubles se, Durham’s pairing of McVitie and Cotton were on fire and quickly stormed into a 2-0 lead before Smith and Robson won the next two games to take the set into the fifth and deciding end.
McVitie was in excellent form by now, attacking at every opportunity.
The Durham pair blasted into a 9-6 lead and looked to be odds-on winners before Smith and Robson somehow clawed the lead back to force the game into a tie-break ... eventually edging the set 12-10 to put Northumberland 4-3 up – their first lead of the match.
Next up, Cotton faced Stamas. Head to head, Cotton had the upper hand but records count for nothing and so it proved.
Stamas took the first 11-8, but Cotton received excellent tactics from Gelder and McVitie to play some fantastic attacking table tennis and dominate the next three games to win the set 3-1 and the level the match at 4-4.
The penultimate set saw the two number ones face each another. It was a match too far for McVitie, who had given everything in previous sets, and he went down in straight sets to Smith to give Northumberland a 5-4 lead.
That meant a win for Northumberland would hand them the title, while a Durham win would earn them the draw and the championship.
As expected, the match went to the very final set – Stamas and Henry for Northumberland and Williamson and Herrington for Durham.
Williamson was in terrific form, hitting some fantastic forehand smashes off the bounce to help the Durham pairing secure the first game.
Northumberland levelled by taking the next game before Williamson and Herrington edged the third 11-9.
Despite the importance of the set, the fourth game saw some brilliant rallies, twists and turns, before the Durham pair eventually held on to win the game 12-10 and the set to secure a 5-5 draw and the league title amid jubilant celebrations by the whole Durham team and supporters.
Sunderland and District League results, Div One: St Gabriel’s A 1 St Chad’s 9, Thompson Insurance A 8 Mortimer CA 2
Div Two: Silksworth IM 6 Sacriston Bombers 4