Ian Callender (Belfast Telegraph)
NORTHERN Knights skipper Gary Wilson could only watch the rain at Stormont yesterday as yet another inter-provincial match was washed out and his thoughts were already turning, with dread, to tomorrow’s vital Robinson Services League Cup match at The Lawn.
Waringstown host Wilson’s Civil Service North side with only the winners assured of a place in the semi-final but while he is confident that the visitors can win the match, his fear is that the weather could turn it into another no-result – and that would end their hopes of reaching the last four. CSN go into the match level on points with the Villagers and Instonians, who host Carrickfergus, but with an inferior run-rate so two no results or a home win at Shaw’s Bridge would end Wilson’s club season.
“We will definitely be travelling on Saturday in the hope of play, he says. “Unless there is heavy rain, the sun could be out the next minute and I believe we can also play on the mat if need be. But we’ll be looking for those four points.
“North Down and CI (the joint leaders) are the only games we have lost although the Woodvale wash-out last Saturday was one we would have expected to win.
“But we’ve probably done well to get so much cricket this season. It certainly didn’t look like it as recently as June. But the NCU have done well. We all wanted meaningful cricket and I think they have done that.”
Wilson is Director of Cricket at Stormont and one of seven players involved in inter-provincial action this season, but he is just as excited by the youth coming through the club.
“We have put a big emphasis on our youth structure, and have been playing games from Under 11 right through to Under 19s. Much of the credit has to go to Stephen Dyer who is on the ground doing all the dirty work, he makes my job easy. We also have a lot of familiar names coming through, sons of players synonymous with the club over the years. Regan West’s boy, James could potentially be the best of the lot.”
Archie Johnston is the youngest member of the 1st XI this season, but the fact that he has kept the wicket-keeping gloves despite Wilson’s presence in the team, underlines that emphasis on youth.
Opportunities have been scarce, however, in such a truncated season and, since Wilson and Stuart Thompson returned from international duty, with all the big names available there has been no reason to change their starting line-up.
It will be the same again tomorrow with Ross Adair, the find of the season after his move from Holywood, hoping to continue his big-hitting exploits at the top of the order which has earned him a Northern Knights debut alongside team-mates Marc Ellison, Graham McCarter and Matty Foster, who will be back in the Knights squad for the 50-over competition – he is currently playing for the Munster Reds.
Instonians will also be unchanged and while they have no incentive to play the game – two points for an abandoned game is sure to keep them in the top four – they will back themselves to beat Carrick whose only points from their first six games came from last week’s washout against Waringstown.
Defending champions CIYMS and North Down, who have superior run-rates to the three teams locked together on 14 points, are assured of the top two places and home semi-finals next Saturday.
CIYMS are at home tomorrow to Woodvale and North Down travel to Lisburn knowing they will need to better CI’s result by a significant margin to take the first place at the end of the group stages.
They will have to do it without Paul Stirling who, in the end, played only two matches for the Comber side with Aditya Adey, their new signing from Muckamore, expected to return to the opening batting slot he had to give up for the Ireland international.
For both teams, however, tomorrow’s action is just the warm-up for the big match of the weekend, when they meet in Lagan Valley Steels T20 Cup final at The Lawn on Sunday (3pm) with a place in the All-Ireland T20 finals day as the prize.