Whilst many opening day eyes were trained on Whitburn’s first excursion into Premier Division cricket, Sunderland stole the headlines with a record breaking run chase at Jesmond.
Whitburn could not have been handed a tougher beginning to life in the top flight as they were sent to champions Stockton who had won the 2013 title by a staggering 121-point margin, but it was Sunderland who looked to be dead and buried after just 45 overs of their match only to rise majestically from the ashes of a chastening day in the field.
Newcastle smashed an eye-watering total of 328 for one in that time, equalling their highest ever NEPL total in the process. Neil Corby and Dan Humble (44) set the run making agenda with an opening stand of 97, then Graham Clark joined Corby in destroying the Wearsiders attack.
Corby cracked 19 fours and 2 sixes on his way to an unbeaten 123 from 151 balls, and Clark surpassed that with a 76-ball 134 which was adorned by 14 fours and 8 sixes. Relief came for the visitors by way of the generous declaration, the two centurions sharing an unbroken stand of 231 to set a new league marker for a second wicket partnership.
Handed 75 overs in which to chase down the formidable target Sunderland did so with just two of those to spare, and setting a new club record total in the process. The Wearsiders needed a solid start and skipper Dan Shurben gave them just that with his opening 84 from 112 balls, and with Simon Brown making 61 the run chase was well and truly on when they reached 180 for one. A brief stutter saw four wickets go down for 44 runs, but a half century from Greg Applegarth steadied the ship before an unbeaten 29 from Dave Hill finally eased the ecstatic visitors over the line.
Over at Grangefield Whitburn were finding out just what life is like at the top level. They could not have made a worse start with the bat, slumping alarmingly to 50 for eight before Aussie amateur Scott Condy (49) and number ten Michael Bittlestone (27) put on a defiant 73 for the ninth wicket. When Condy eventually fell one run short of his half century the resistance was ended on 126.
There was a glimmer of hope when Stockton lost their third wicket with only 45 on the board, but five times NEPL player of the year Richard Waite (41 not out) showed his class by anchoring his side to a five wicket win.
Hetton Lyons didn’t get the opening day win that they were hoping for, but by gaining the lion’s share of the points at Ropery Lane they demonstrated that they will be a force to be reckoned with as the season unfolds.
An opening stand of 198 saw debutant Allan Worthy making a fine 75, but it was former Durham man Gary Scott who really caught the eye as he went on to crack 142 from 185 balls, an innings which included 11 fours and 5 sixes.
A declaration followed in the 59th over on 249 for four, and the Cestrians run chase began badly when they lost two wickets with just 13 on the board. Simon Birtwisle (65 from 108 balls) and Quentin Hughes (83 not out in 173 balls) then helped take Chester to 173 for three in the 49th over, and with 77 needed from the last 12 overs it was game on. But the loss of three wickets for just 10 runs stunted the home team’s ambitions and they decided discretion was the better part of valour to close out on 195 for six.
The other stalemate was at Preston Avenue where Tynemouth (181 for nine) were held by the Academy (159 for seven), this despite half centuries from Ben Debnam and Matthew Brown, and a 20 over stint from David Hymers which saw him concede just 22 runs whilst taking three wickets.
The contrast in the other two games could not have been starker. Karl Turner’s debut for South North resulted in a new individual scoring record for the club when the former Durham and Notts star smashed 23 fours and 9 sixes on his way to a 180-ball unbeaten 209. Set 307 to win Gateshead Fell ended 161 short as Lee Crozier spun his way to five wickets.
Turner outscored the whole of the Blaydon and Benwell Hill teams put together. Nineteen wickets fell at Denefield as only 158 runs were scored. The home team were bundled out for 77, their last nine wickets going down for 30 runs, and then Benwell Hill nearly made a mess of things and needed their last pair to score five runs to secure the victory.