Stirling big draw for NCU
Ian Callender (Belfast Telegraph)
IT DIDN’T take long for the NCU to announce the return of Paul Stirling for Robinson Services Cup finals weekend.
Within hours of North Down confirming the Ireland international in their team, the NCU turned Stirling into the poster boy for their advertising on social media with the big-hitting opener sure to be the star attraction over the next two days at Comber.
Stirling wasn’t expected to return to club cricket after his solitary appearance in the league stage, when he scored 47 off 27 balls against Civil Service North – he also played in the T20 Cup semi-final at Waringstown - but with a week-long break in the T20 Blast where he has helped Northamptonshire to the top of the Central Group at the halfway stage, he has flown home and made himself available for what he hopes will be two more games at The Green.
First, North Down have to get past Instonians in the second semi-final today (3.00pm), but if CIYMS also win the morning game, against Waringstown (11.00am), then everything is set up for another shoot-out between the NCU’s best two teams in the final, also in Comber, on Sunday.
If that scenario comes about then it will be a repeat of last Sunday’s T20 Cup final which CI won by 11 runs but, of course, without Stirling in the North Down team.
With Stirling in the team – any line-up –he has the ability to win a T20 game on his own but it will be a fascinating test if he comes up against the best bowling attack in the league on Sunday.
However, while North Down can welcome their best player back into the team, the CI attack is significantly weaker with the absence of Allen Coulter who hobbled off in the third over of the T20 final with a knee problem.
He has been ruled out of this weekend’s action, although skipper Nigel Jones hopes he will be available next Saturday when they face the North West Cup winners at Bready in the All-Ireland T20 Cup semi-final.
David Robinson is the like-for-like replacement in an otherwise unchanged CI line-up and the captain will revert to his regular new ball role when Mark Adair is not in the team.
Adair was comfortably the most economical bowler last Sunday and in James Cameron-Dow, Jacob Mulder and Trevor Britton they have a spin trio which every club in the NCU envies.
North Down will be keen to make up for their disappointing defeat – and it will be a lot easier if Stirling stays for any length of time – but if he fails then the pressure will be on professional Ruhan Pretorius to step up the pace.
He faced 57 balls in the T20 cup final against CIYMS and scored just 47 runs in an innings which included 23 dot balls and 29 singles. He hit two sixes but not a single four.
It could be seen as a one-off if it had been the first time this season but in the game at Stormont, after Stirling’s dismissal, Pretorius also batted through the innings but had 30 dot balls that day in his 58 and in the T20 Cup semi-final at The Lawn he scored 12 off 25 balls.
Fortunately for North Down, captain Ally Shields, Ryan Haire and in last Sunday’s final, Peter Eakin have all been in free-scoring form so there is no shortage of runs in the side and Instonians will have to be at their best to deny the hosts a place in the final.
It’s a huge credit to Andrew White’s side that he has given youth its fling this season – the captain has been batting as low as No 9 – and only CIYMS and North Down finished above them after the seven-game league programme.
Waringstown were handicapped by two no results and only pipped Civil Service North to a top four slot on run-rate but skipper Lee Nelson will admit that for such a talented side they have under-performed too often this season and must cope this weekend without the injured Phil Eaglestone.