North Down captain Alistair Shields is hoping Sunday’s Robinson Services Cup seven-wicket final victory over Waringstown is just the beginning of the silverware haul for his side.
In what is their first competition victory since 2013, the Comber outfit put in a dominant performance, limiting their opponents to 95-9 in 20 overs before successfully chasing the total down with 18 balls to spare.
Paul Stirling (4-18), returning from Northants duty to play in Saturday’s semi-final win over Instonians and then the decider, set the tone by picking up four quick wickets to leave Waringstown sitting on 39-5 after nine overs.
It was a position that they were never able to recover from as Ryan Haire (3-20) stopped Waringstown’s chances of posting any sort of defendable score when he bowled Greg Thompson (19) before it was over to Ruhan Pretorius (47) who broke the back of their run chase.
(Winners North Down)
Pretorius, who scored 120* from 56 balls in the semi-final, put on a second-wicket partnership of 66 with Shields (25*) after Stirling (2) was caught in the first over.
Shields rounded the game off in style by hitting his third four and he was delighted with not just the final performance but the season as a whole.
“We are delighted to finally get over the line in one of these finals,” he said.
“Our bowlers really set that up. We saw how the wicket played yesterday and we adapted really well.
“The guys put us in a great position there and we would have been kicking ourselves if we didn’t get over the line but we are really pleased.
“We just didn’t get over the line last week (T20 Cup final) but I felt we played good enough cricket to win something this year so we are delighted with that.”
Pretorius will qualify to play for Ireland at the end of 2021 after deciding to permanently reside in Northern Ireland, and if he can continue to perform at the level he did this weekend, an international debut seems almost certain.
He has been one of the standout players in the NCU over the past five years and despite struggling with his strike rate at certain points in the 2020 season, he broke the shackles this weekend and took all the pressure off their run chase.
“It was a good weekend for him to come to the party,” added Shields.
“He played beautifully yesterday and was so destructive and then today he set it up and made it easy for the guys coming in.”
(Alistair Shields gets the trophy from David Robinson)
North Down dominated the local club scene between 2000-2010, winning seven Challenge Cup’s and seven league titles, but the following 10 years was a quieter period.
They’ve kicked this decade off by winning a trophy and with the likes of Pretorius, Stirling and Craig Young in their ranks, it could be the start of something special at The Green.
“I’m looking at this team and I’m hoping we can keep it together,” said Shields.
“The guys have really bought in to everything we are trying to do and the numbers and effort at training is way up on previous years.
“Fingers crossed this is the start of something and it’s great to get over the line in one of these tight finals.
“Hopefully we can carry that momentum into next year.”