You can stir the pot all you like but the cream always rises to the top. Despite the changes made to the IP50 format, Leinster Lightning yet again repelled all comers and proudly retained the trophy following their 4-wicket win over North-West Warriors yesterday.
It was entirely fitting that, when they looked as if they might stutter at 46-3 chasing a target of 232, George Dockrell and Andrew Balbirnie dismissed all concerns as they calmly eased through the gears to add 123 runs off 165 balls.
Their partnership left the defending champions needing just 65 runs from 63 deliveries and Balbirnie oversaw the remainder of the innings to finish unbeaten on 85.
Since the IP50 was revived in 2013, either Balbirnie or Dockrell have featured in nine of the top twenty highest partnerships in the tournament with yesterday’s liaison being the second occasion that they have combined in that list. Dockrell’s 67 meant that he passed fifty in all five of his IP50 innings this season and brought his aggregate to 364 runs with an astonishing average of 121.33. His 35 fours and 8 sixes meant that he reached or cleared the boundary every 9.6 deliveries.
Dockrell has now moved into third place for the aggregate runs in this format with 709 runs, leaving just Balbirnie (911) and Kevin O’Brien (938) ahead of him in the standings. His record-breaking performances with the bat has revitalised his career but lest anyone forgets that he has still a role to play with the ball, he gave a timely reminder yesterday that he should not be written off in that discipline. His 2-37 in 9.3 overs was a significant factor in restricting the Warriors total to 231 after William Porterfield and Andy McBrine had taken advantage of an unusually out of sorts opening pair of Barry McCarthy and Peter Chase, to race to 74-1 after 13 overs.
He will also be able to remind those who question his bowling prowess that his two wickets yesterday extend his lead in aggregate wickets in the history of the tournament. He now has 41 wickets, six more than second place, and much undervalued, Tyrone Kane.
Intriguingly, despite having overs available from his two openers as well as bowling find of the season, David O’Halloran, he was confident enough to bowl the final over of the innings.
And, although 18-year-old Nathan McGuire went to his maiden List A fifty with an outrageous reverse sweep for six off the first ball of the over, Dockrell rearranged Craig Young’s stumps two balls later to wrap up the innings.
McBrine had played a captain’s innings himself to give his side the chance of wresting the trophy from the vice like grip of the Leinster men. His patient 112 ball innings of 72 demonstrated a new maturity with the bat that has been evident this season influenced, I suspect, by batting at number three rather than in the nether regions of the order.
Unfortunately, apart from Porterfield’s early flurry of runs no one could stay with him long enough to accelerate to a total that would have really put Lightning to the pin of their collar. Indeed, if it had not been for a last wicket partnership of 50, dominated by the confidently belligerent McGuire, Lightning would have strolled to the title with a lot more than 7 balls to spare.
A key element of Lightning’s success over the years has been their ability to compensate for one or more of their side having an off day with bat or ball by someone else taking their opportunity to make their presence felt. They can usually rely on Simi Singh and yesterday was no exception as his ten overs only cost 34 runs. Josh Little bowled with real pace, bounce and movement and beat the bat on numerous occasions and with more fortune he could have had a handful of wickets.
O’Halloran celebrated his elevation to the extended Ireland squad by taking a List A career best four wickets. In his early overs he found it difficult to get his line right to Warriors quartet of top order left hand batters and was punished on the leg side, but he adjusted and reaped the rewards.
To win all the Warriors bowlers needed to be firing on all cylinders. However, while, as usual, Young 2-43, Graham Hume 1-33 and McBrine 0-31, all delivered with each bowling their full complement, the support bowling was lacking and the pressure on the Lightning batsmen was too readily relieved.
It is only three weeks until Lightning start the defence of their IPT20 title while Warriors will be intent in holding on to the runners-up spot in IP50.
North-West Warriors 231 all out off 49.3 overs (A. McBrine 72, N. McGuire 53*, D. O’Halloran 4-44, G. Dockrell 2-37) lost to Leinster Lightning 235-6 off 48.5 overs (A. Balbirnie 85*, G. Dockrell 67, C. 2-43) by 4 wickets.