After a dramatic final which drained the supporters of both teams, North Down deservedly won the Touche Ross Cup with barely one hit separating the two sides after two days of glorious entertainment.
But North Down's first victory for ten years will always be remembered as the Akram Raza final after the Woodvale professional, almost single-handedly, tried to deny the favourites their claim to the cup. His 213 runs were 40 more than anyone else had ever scored in 105 years of the two innings cup final and when he was caught at deep square leg by Billy Adams after batting a total of 89 overs, he left the cup final arena never to be forgotten.
His consolation was the Man of the Match award. On the opening day Akram's highest ever individual score in a limited overs final was not enough to give Woodvale a first innings lead.
North Down, with the help of 54 runs from the last five overs of their innings, led by nine runs after a memorable day dominated by Akram, Michael Clark and Charlie McCrum. Clark and McCrum put on 156 for the first North Down wicket, just nine runs short of the record set by Roy Harrison and Michael Reith for Waringstown in 1971.
But, in spite of batting almost 47 overs North Down still had to rely on captain Robin Haire to finish the job in style and gain that vital advantage. However, in spite of Clark's straight-hitting 111 the day will be remembered for the class and batting skill of Akram.
Coming to the wicket in the fifth over after the loss of Stephen Warke, trapped leg before, he made his intentions clear from the start. After surviving an excellent opening spell from McCrum, easily the best bowler on show, he picked off his record score of 146 with deft flicks, perfectly judged singles and rasping drives on both sides of the wicket. That there were only six fours in his century, off 134 balls out of 182 for five was an accurate reflection of his innings but, not to be outdone by North Down's excellent finale earlier, he scored his last 46 off just 24 deliveries.
Throughout he received excellent support from his teammates, particularly Geoffrey Dempster and Iain Warke. Clark, an exceptional talent for one so young, earlier showed his class. His century took him 52 overs as he made Woodvale pay for two missed chances at 16 and 18.
McCrum's batting was just as good as his bowling later, John Gilliland again proved how under-estimated a player he is, while Haire, the main in form, could not be stopped. He faced just 12 balls for his unbeaten 23 and although it was the professionals' day his last gasp runs were to prove invaluable at the end of the game.
When Akram Raza was caught by Adams on the second afternoon the North Down celebrations suggested that with his dismissal-Woodvale were reduced to 145 for four in the 47th over, chasing 245-the cup was in the bag, the unsung Woodvale heroes came out of the closet.
Simon Redpath, after his duck in the first innings, scored 47 off 36 balls and shared a partnership of 62 in eight overs with Geoffrey Dempster. While these two were at the wicket, it was still possible that Woodvale would overcome the daunting challenge of the highest ever fourth innings score to win a cup final.
However, when Dempster, in the 55th over, and Redpath, off the last ball of the 58th, were caught in the deep, leaving a target of 23 from the last two overs, the tail were just not up to it against the pace of McCrum and Adams.
Earlier. Clark's second innings 50 was not as meticulous as his first innings century but his talent still shone through again. After surviving a run out incident when 18 he added another 32 runs in nine overs before he edged Akram to Woodvale skipper Chris Davis.
With Stephen Warke having to bowl in place of the disappointing Alex Moody, McCrum and Gilliland put on 93 for the second North Down wicket and the Lionel Semple and Michael Quinn chipped in with useful runs to enable North Down to total 235, just 16 less than their first effort.
North Down knew they were home and dry if they could contain Akram's batting in the second innings. Warke and Wills saw off the dangerous McCrum before letting the Pakistani loose. He very nearly did enough but Haire and his colleagues were not to be denied and even the Woodvale faithful couldn't say they did not deserve it.
NORTH DOWN First Innings Second Innings M Clark c Scott b Lowry 111 c Davis b Raza 50 C McCrum lbw b Lowry 60 c Dempster b Raza 65 J Gilliland not out 35 c S Warke b Raza 51 M Quinn c S Warke b Raza 9 c Davis b Lowry 25 R Haire not out 23 lbw b Raza 3 L Semple did not bat run out 27 P Moore did not bat run out 2 I Shields did not bat not out 3 M O'Prey did not bat not out 1 I Carser did not bat did not bat W Adams did not bat did not bat Extras 13 Extras 8 (3 wickets, 60 overs) 251 (7 wkts, 60 overs) 235
FOW 1st 156, 195, 220 2nd 65, 158, 173, 180, 227, 230, 233 O M R W O M R W Fitzsimmons 12 1 43 0 12 1 35 0 Redpath 12 1 70 1 12 0 51 0 Moody 12 0 44 0 3 0 20 0 Raza 12 1 36 0 12 3 46 4 Lowry 12 0 48 2 12 2 34 0 S Warke 9 0 34 0 WOODVALE First Innings Second Innings S Warke lbw b McCrum 2 b Carser 36 R Wills c Moore b McCrum 2 c Adams b Carser 14 Akram Raza c & b Gilliland 146 c Adams b Haire 67 G Dempster c & b O'Prey 21 c Quinn b Adams 31 I Warke c Clark b Gilliland 29 b Semple 5 S Redpath c Moore b Adams 0 c Clark b Adams 47 D Scott run out 19 b McCrum 1 C Davis not out 8 not out 5 K Fitzsimmons st Moore b Gil'and 2 c Haire b Adams 0 P Lowry did not bat c Moore b Adams 6 Extras 13 Extras 21 (8 wickets, 60 overs) 242 (60 overs) 237 FOW 1st 4, 7, 72, 133, 139, 198, 240, 242 2nd 27, 93, 110, 145, 207, 213, 219, 22, 231, 237 O M R W O M R W McCrum 12 2 46 2 12 3 26 1 Adams 12 2 46 1 12 2 44 4 Semple 11 0 40 0 12 1 39 1 Carser 7 0 24 0 12 0 53 2 O'Prey 6 1 22 1 Gilliland 12 0 58 3 1 0 9 0 Clark 6 0 20 0 Haire 5 0 27 1 Man of the Match: Akram Raza (Woodvale) Umpires: M Moore and P Whyte