Instonians have been dealt another injury blow ahead of the Challenge Cup semi-final at Shaw’s Bridge against CSNI - with Nikolai Smith ruled out for at least eight weeks with a knee injury.

The Belfast side already have fast bowler Nathan Smith on the sidelines courtesy of a side strain and Robert McKinley is just returning from a long-term injury, bowling his first overs of the season against Armagh last Friday.

Captain Andrew White will have to go without all-rounder Smith for potentially the rest of the season. “We have been hit with another big injury blow with Nikolai Smith out for at least eight weeks and possibly the rest of the season,” he said.

“He picked up a knee injury with the Northern Knights and it hasn’t recovered. “He met the consultant this week and had an MRI, so he is out.

“We still have enough strength in depth to give ourselves a fighting chance.”

James Shannon will be available following his 60 for Ireland against India on Wednesday and will again be in the squad for tonight’s second Twenty20.

White says he is delighted to see someone he has watched for over a decade make his mark in an Irish shirt.

“I’ve been fortunate enough to watch his progress from the age of 13,” he added.

“I watched him come up through the ranks with Instonians and I’ve seen him in the good times and seen him come through times when he has struggled.

“He has worked extremely hard to get himself into a position where he was in the reckoning for selection and it’s great when someone works so hard and wants it so bad that they get their opportunity through results and also he is now starting to look the part in an Ireland shirt.”

Irish T20 captain Gary Wilson will be in the opposing team on Saturday - and with the likes of Marc Ellison and Andre Malan in red-hot form, White feels the Stormont side will be the strongest CSNI he has ever encountered.

“We have always had good battles with CSNI down the years,” he said. “James Kennedy adds a lot to them as a captain and they have a lot of good performers in their side.

“Gary Wilson will play and they are probably at their strongest that they ever will have been during my time of playing on Saturday.

“That’s great for the competition and for local cricket that they are as good as they are. “I have no doubt whoever plays the best on the day will win.

“If we can do the basics well and get a few partnerships going with the bat we will be tough to beat as well.”

CSNI have also welcomed batsman Aaron Wright back into the side after the 21-year-old missed four games with a broken finger.

Wright struck 45 in last weekend’s win over Armagh, and captain James Kennedy says he is delighted to have him back in action.

“It’s good to have a full squad to choose from always,” he said.

“Arny had done well throughout the season so it was disappointing when he broke his finger, but he has picked up where he left off which is what we needed.”

Crucial games are coming thick and fast for Kennedy’s squad, and he says he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“You’d be disappointed if you weren’t playing in all of these games because it would mean you’re out of the competitions,” he added.

“It’s great we are competing on all fronts, including the Irish Cup.

“So many games means you are going to be relying on lots of people to play in those matches, so you need a big squad to be able to do that.

“Obviously a few boys will be away now and again. “You have to rely on fringe players sometimes and it’s important to have a big squad.”