Alistair Bushe (News Letetr)
BY ALISTAIR BUSHE AT BELMONT
CIYMS captain Barry Cooper has been doing his best to dampen expectations at Belmont. Even after three successive victories to start the NCU Premier League season, he continued to downplay his team's chances of silverware this season, but judging by the way CI dismantled Donemana in the Bob Kerr Irish Cup second round on Saturday, it's time for Cooper to stop the kidology.
Against a Donemana team who were runners-up in this competition in each of the previous two seasons, CI won at a canter by eight wickets, chasing down Donemana's total of 212 for seven with more than 12 overs to spare.
Cooper saw his team to the finishing line with an unbeaten 94, but the most significant innings of the day was played by Craig McMillan, CI's New Zealand professional. This was ominous viewing for the NCU Premier League, not to mention Merrion, their opponents in Dublin in the third round, while Donemana had the stuffing knocked out of them long before the formalities were complete.
He might have put on a few pounds since he was at the peak of his powers in the international game, but McMillan obviously retains the ability to destroy any bowling attack in Irish club cricket. Perhaps more significantly for CIYMS, he appears to retain the appetite for big runs. When you hear that he scored 91 from just 75 balls, you might assume that McMillan was playing a shot a ball, but this was far from reckless batting.
He was watchful when he needed to be but even the semblance of a loose delivery from Donemana was deposited to the boundary in the blink of an eye. He hit four sixes that cleared the boundaries with frightening ease, the first over long-on from just the third delivery he faced from left-arm spinner Jordan McGonigle.
Together with Cooper, he added 145 for the third wicket in just 25 overs with victory a formality long before McMillan was adjudged lbw to Andy McBrine, nine runs short of a first CI century. The visitors did appear to have Cooper caught behind on just 22, as he edged to wicketkeeper Richard Dougherty off James McBrine, and McMillan was fortunate to see Dougherty miss a skyer off Azhar Shafique when he was 47.
Thereafter, Donemana wilted in the May sunshine, and a succession of fielding lapses brought defeat ever closer. Cooper finished just six runs short of his century, having faced 106 balls. He struck 13 fours and two sixes. His one let-off apart, it was fine innings, although it was baffling why Donemana continued to feed his favourite cut shot with a succession of short and wide deliveries.
Donemana won't make excuses but for long parts of the day, their heart didn't look in this match. There were barely a dozen visiting supporters, with their usually devoted following boycotting the competition after the County Tyrone club were banned from playing at home in the Irish Cup for the next three seasons. That draconian punishment from Cricket Ireland following brief unruly scenes at last year's final at The Hills.
Donemana were probably 50 runs of a demanding target with the bat. The young duo Ryan Hunter and Andy McBrine had provided an enterprising start, with the teenagers compiling 61 for the first wicket in largely fine batting conditions.
McBrine already seems to have taken his batting onto another level from his breakthrough campaign in 2009. He drove beautifully through the covers in a delightful 62 from 97 balls, and despite a slender frame he can clear the longer boundaries too. His straight six off leg-spinner Ryan Hanna as he advanced down the track was probably the finest shot of the day, McMillan included.
He struck seven fours and that one six but after he was caught off Hanna, the Donemana innings went into freefall. From the comfort of 86 for one, they plummeted to 139 for seven, with the middle order looking worryingly brittle. That they managed respectability was down to a belligerent eighth wicket stand between Junior McBrine and Dale Olphert.
They cleverly made use of the batting power-play, with the last five overs yielding 59 runs. McBrine, with an unbeaten 67 from just 52 balls, including eight fours and a six, was the dominant partner in a stand of 73, but Olphert twice cleared the boundary down the ground off McMillan, in his 30 from 22 balls.
If there was one worry for CI, it was the lack of cutting edge with the new ball in the absence of Ben McCord, the New Zealander who is ineligible in this competition. His absence may undermine them in the later stages of the Irish Cup but those concerns are for another day. Despite Cooper's protestations, they are serious contenders for trophies.