By Chris West
AFTER two successive washouts, Sunderland returned to action with a real thriller on Saturday, featuring in a tied finish at Tynemouth.
Although the teams finished with 210 runs apiece, Sunderland will be wondering why they didn’t actually win the contest, having had nine of their rivals’ wickets down with 29 runs still needed for Tynemouth to save the match.
Batting first, Sunderland’s Dan Shurben hit his best form to top score with 76 out of 210-9 in 58.3 overs, hitting 11 fours in the process.
He got excellent support from Chris Hooker, who hit 38 before becoming one of the six victims of former Sunderland “pro” Rameez Shahzad.
And it was Shahzad’s broad bat which finally sank Sunderland’s hopes of victory.
He made a brilliant unbeaten 107, with the last 29 runs coming when, on 181-9, Sunderland had been very much fancied to get what would have been their eighth win of the season.
Shahzad cleverly protected his final partner, Ollie McGee, scoring all the runs in what proved a last-ditch stand of distinction before Joe Coyne was brought on as a final desperate throw of the dice and proceeded to grab McGee’s wicket with the scores level.
League leaders Chester-le-Street won the day’s biggest battle when they beat Blaydon, their closest rivals for the championship.
The Cestrians fought hard for 61 overs to hit 213, with the excellent Andrew Smith including 11 fours and two sixes in a 113-ball innings of 79 to finish as top scorer.
Lee Whitfield (4-27) and Martin Pollard (3-35) were on top of the job for Blaydon before Richard Waite (5-44) turned the screw for Chester to dispose of their title challengers for 147, this despite a half-century from Henry Nicholls and 37 from Allan Worthy.
South North have now become the main challengers to Chester-le-Street after defeating struggling South Shields to move to within 20 points of the leaders.
Hetton Lyons continued their outstanding recent form when they gave Newcastle a real lesson in drive and spirit.
Shaun Birbeck (84) and Paul Riddle (55) produced a superb opening stand which set the Lyons up for a comfortable score of 223-9.
Then Jon Malkin (4-21) and Kamran Shah (2-32) combined to halt a potential Newcastle fightback, the Tynesiders bowled out for just 120 and beaten by 103 runs.
Elsewhere, mid-table Durham Academy enjoyed a seven-wicket success over Stockton, who remain in the bottom three.
Eight bowlers were used against the Teessiders, who had Jon Rickard (45) and James Ward (40) to thank for reaching 206-9.
However, it was never going to be enough to trouble the Academy, for whom Ramanpreet Singh (76) and Keaton Jennings (70 no) continued their outstanding form with another important partnership.
Benwell Hill were the other winners after skittling out bottom club Gateshead Fell for just 65 runs in 22.5 overs.
They collapsed dramatically from 57-3 to 57 for nine as Joe Kilpatrick took four of the wickets without conceding a run. Ali Maiden hit 42 from 34 balls to take Benwell to a nine-wicket win.