By Chris West
SUNDERLAND have set themselves the target of a top-four finish after suffering their lowest placing in the 11 seasons of the Premier League last year.
They ended ninth in 2010, being consistently inconsistent throughout last summer. But the Ashbrooke men have some new blood in the camp to hopefully provide them with the necessary impetus this time around, with the capture of Kieran Waterson from Hetton Lyons likely to add some much-needed firepower to their attack.
Other new faces include Chris Hooker, an all-rounder who featured in South Northumberland’s side last year, and Tom Skilbeck, who is returning to the game after a few years out.
Sunderland also have two Durham men on their books, with pace bowler Chris Rushworth the contracted player and Joe Coyne, from the Academy, part of the new arrangement to get the youngsters more opportunity to develop their skills at club level.
The only player going in the opposite direction is overseas man Rameez Shahzad, who has joined Tynemouth – but he could be a big miss given that he was Sunderland’s leading batsman with 700 league runs, not to mention his 25 wickets. However, Ash Thorpe continues as the inspirational skipper.
Chester-le-Street created history last year when winning the championship of all three senior divisions – the only club ever to achieved the feat. And they remain as ambitious and driven as ever as they try to continue in that vein.
With no close-season departures from Ropery Lane, the addition of ex-Derbyshire and Durham bowler Ian Hunter to an already powerful squad is a clear statement of intent. Aussie Andrew Tye is back for another campaign and, with Graeme Cessford set to be available on a regular basis, the Cestrians will be heavy favourites to add more silverware to their already bulging trophy cabinet.
John Tindale will lead Hetton Lyons, and they look to have overcome the disappointment of losing Waterson, with Academy player Ryan Pringle expanding his experience at the club and Gary Adey returning from South Hetton. Also on board is a 19-year-old Aussie, Nick Jones, an opening bowler who hails from Andrew Tye’s club in Western Australia.
Durham Academy operated with a young squad last season, yet still finished fourth. The majority will play again this time and, with an extra year under their belts, are likely to give opponents a tough time. They have an overseas player, too – Keaton Jennings captained South Africa Under-19s over the winter and the all-rounder will be one to watch.
Mathew Muchall will miss at least half of South Shields’ season as he struggles to recover from the knee injury suffered last year, but the Wood Terrace side have brought in some quality to help try and ensure they do not become embroiled in a relegation tussle again.
Luke Durrandt, James Hill, Chris Roper, and Tom Westley are all local students with a good cricketing pedigree, adding to the arrivals of 24-year-old Mat Jensen, a seamer from Queensland, and Kris McShane, back from a spell at Blaydon.
Elsewhere, Gateshead Fell have brought in Matthew Milton from Western Australia, Mark Wood replaces Hooker at South North, Kiwi Ben Langrope will play for Newcastle, promising leg-spinner Chris Varley has joined Blaydon from Seaham Park, Dan Young has moved to Benwell Hill from Tynemouth and Shane Peake, a Melbourne grade cricketer, is the overseas interest at Stockton.