JAMES McCollum has yet to play a T20 international but he showed the Ireland selectors yesterday that he is ready, willing and able whenever he gets the call.
The Waringstown batsman, who has played nine ODIs and two Test matches, was in a class of his own yesterday as he led Northern Knights to a crushing eight-wicket bonus-point victory over the hapless North West Warriors in Comber.
McCollum finished 79 not out, which included nine fours and two sixes, with only one false stroke, a simple return catch to Boyd Rankin when he was on 32, but how he took advantage.
He drove his second ball through the covers, brought up his side’s 50 with a straight six off Stuart Thompson and then his own half century, from 39 balls, with another drive down the ground off Graham Hume.
With 22 runs needed off three overs to get the bonus point, he greeted Graham Kennedy with a huge six onto the top pitch and followed up with two more fours as the target was reduced to five by the end of the over.
Two balls later it was all over, finishing the match in style with another superbly timed square cut.
Watching with admiration from the other end was his skipper Gary Wilson, who was content to give McCollum the strike and contribute just 12 in the unbroken stand of 62.
Ross Adair was promoted to open in place of Paul Stirling and crashed the first ball to the cover boundary, but Craig Young got his revenge four balls later as Adair came down the pitch and edged to the keeper.
Harry Tector was the only other batsman who made it to the middle in what is a formidable Knights batting line-up, but after hitting two fours and a six he missed a sweep shot to give Andy McBrine his sole success.
It was good to see Rankin back in action, but on the day the big strike bowler met his match in McCollum, who would not be moved.
The other returning Warrior, Ryan Hunter, was their top scorer with a run-a-ball 37, but after he was out, the visitors could add only 22 from the last 27 balls, with Mark Adair, for the second game on this ground, again the star with the ball.
In Sunday’s T20 Cup final for CIYMS, he took only one wicket for nine runs. This time he was only marginally more expensive but deserved his first four-wicket haul in this format, including the big one of in-form William Porterfield, caught in the covers from the first ball of his second spell.
The Knights head to Dublin tomorrow for what is set to be the decisive clash of the competition against Leinster Lightning, who yesterday beat Munster Reds by seven wickets in Cork.
Rain delayed the start and reduced the game to 13 overs. The biggest surprise was the dismissal of Kevin O’Brien for just two in the third over but, chasing a target of just 77, Lightning still won their bonus point with four balls to spare.