SUNDERLAND did everything expected of them on Saturday when they trounced Gateshead Fell by eight wickets, victory lifting them three places up the table and into fifth position of the Dukes North East Premier League Premier Division.
With many eyes fixed on happenings at Denton Bank, where England international Ben Stokes was making his long awaited return to cricket by representing Durham Academy in their game against Benwell Hill, the less frenetic surroundings of Ashbrooke provided the perfect backdrop for the Wearsiders to find their own momentum.
Fell decided to bat when winning the toss, but were soon wondering whether that was the right choice as James Davies kept picking them off.
Aussie Adam Whatley was the only man to get to grips with the home attack, but, after he had cracked 41 from just 26 balls, including eight boundaries, he was third man out with the total on 54.
After that, the innings quickly folded, the last eight wickets mustering just 55 runs.
Gateshead were all out for 109 in 29.4 overs, Davies the destroyer in chief with five wickets for 29 runs in 11 destructive overs, and Dave Hill picking on the bones of the innings with 3-29.
Sunderland then had the game won inside 18 overs as Chris Peareth smashed 15 fours and a six on his rapid way to 75 not out from 60 balls. Mark Dale added 22. Defeat left the Fell in a forlorn state, 25 points adrift of second-bottom Blaydon.
It was natural for the re-emergence of Stokes to grab all the headlines, but even though he showed the form which made him one of the few Ashes hits of the winter, he needed a bit of luck, and Benwell Hill were left to rue two missed chances to claim his scalp fairly cheaply.
So cheaply in fact that the first dropped catch occurred when he had not got off the mark, and the second when he had just reached his half-century.
He made Hill pay for their largesse by cracking 10 fours and four sixes before eventually falling three short of a comeback century. Reece Carr (36), Jack Clark (32) and Jack Burnham (31) all made good contributions.
Set a target of 257-7, Benwell Hill opener Ben Smith then played the sheet anchor role to perfection, making 55 from 172 balls.
When Zohaib Khan eventually arrived at the crease, he decided to inject some urgency into the ponderous reply, racing to an unbeaten 106 from just 97 balls, his stay at the crease including eight fours and six sixes.
The brilliance of his knock left Hill wondering what might have been as their innings closed on 240-4, just 18 short of a famous victory, and with plenty of batting fuel left in the tank.
Stokes had a gentle six-over workout with the ball, although he did not claim a wicket. Ben Whitehead starred for Academy with 3-88.
Khan’s ton was one of four on the day, the other three coming at Jesmond where Hetton Lyons triumphed by 108 runs.
Allan Worthy’s maiden hundred (119) for the Lyons was accompanied by one for Pakistani Lal Kumar (109).
Even though Jacques Du Toit responded with 119 for Newcastle, he could not inspire the rest of his team, who succumbed primarily to Gary Scott (4-7). The Tynesiders were all out for 183, Chris Varley grabbing 2-59 and Martin Pollard 2-50 in response to Hetton’s 291-5 declared, when Scott and Ryan Pringle both made 20.
That win moved Lyons up to second, 14 points behind South North (175-8), who notched up a 54-run success against Whitburn (121 all out) on a sluggish pitch.
Scott Condy (3-51), Mark Elliott and Neil Johnson (both 2-33) did best with the ball for Whitburn, whose batters struggled against Lee Crozier (4-26). Lee Henderson made an impressive 55, with only opener Stuart Walker (21) beating 20.
Blaydon meandered to 158-3 in 60 overs to defy Chester-le-Street, who had set a marker of 226-9.
Paul Underwood’s innings typified Blaydon’s resilience, his 54 runs eating up 183 balls. Callum Thorp bagged two wickets for Chester, whose top batsmen were Chris Youldon (48), John Coxon (41) and Liam Simpson (25).
Champions Stockton beat hosts Tynemouth by 18 runs.