THE saga of Swarupum Purkayastha’s protracted Visa application has stretched the patience of South Shields Cricket Club’s committee to breaking point.

The Indian’s registration seemed no more imminent than it had been a month ago, prompting the Wood Terrace side to shift their focus to locally-based Lahore-born all-rounder, Rameez Shahzad.

The 24 year-old had been on the radar of NEPL rivals Newcastle, but their overseas berth was eventually taken by Michael Richardson, Durham’s second string wicketkeeper-batsman.

In 2005, Shahzad made his first-class debut for United Arab Emirates as a 17-year-old, and performed admirably against an Ireland side that featured stars Eoin Morgan and Niall O’Brien.

Shahzad’s NEPL experience and recent performances suggest that Shields may have stumbled upon a diamond.

In 70 NEPL league and cup matches spanning two years at Sunderland and, most recently, one at Tynemouth, the attacking right-hander has scored 2,416 runs at 40.27.

In that time, his more-than-useful off breaks have returned 93 wickets at 25 runs apiece split almost evenly across those three seasons.

A week shy of a year ago, Shahzad’s half century earned Tynemouth a victory against South Shields in a match that they could otherwise have lost.

Durham have been sufficiently interested to hand Shahzad seven second team starts since May 2010.

The county side’s out-of-favour batsman, Gordon Muchall, makes a rare consecutive appearance for Shields after a tenacious, if ultimately disappointing, knock last week as Shields capitulated in response to a mediocre target.

Meanwhile, tomorrow’s hosts Benwell Hill stuttered in reply to an even more manageable target at Stockton and were left hanging on for the draw with the final pair at the crease in an abridged match.

Richard Waite on his return to the Teesside club produced a typically classy all-round performance.

That was sufficient to suggest that one of Shields recent fellow basement scrappers will be a stronger force this time around.

Amid the seemingly endless stream of unavailability and the scarcity of players able to string together a series of consecutive matches, the selectors have wisely stuck, by and large, with the core of players who have been available since the start of the season.

Adam Shaw, Chris Stewart and Gareth Dunn are therefore preferred to Michael Dunn, Andrew Elliott and Chris Nichol, who will feature in a second team that hands a debut to impressive Under-15 team captain, Vanessa Watson.

The intensity of last weekend’s fielding display was an illustration of how the Sapphire Engineering-sponsored side must approach the campaign.

Togetherness can bridge the differentials that tomorrow’s line-ups look to have on paper.

Benwell Hill have shrewdly selected Ramanpreet Singh as their Durham-contracted player in the expectation of regular availability.

Zohaib Khan, so often the nemesis of South Shields, has returned for his fourth season with the Newcastle side.

Wicket-keeper Phil Nicholson will pass 350 first-team appearances in his 25th season at Benwell Hill. Shields are crying out for such stability, experience and continuity.

A home double weekend for the second team comprises a league meeting with Benwell Hill on Saturday followed by a Banks Bowl clash with Stockton on Bank Holiday Monday.