This has been written later than usual in the week. The delay may have been caused by a job interview in England; it may have been caused by media work at the Northern Ireland Open; or it may have taken me five days to calm down since our capitulation at Lisburn on Saturday…
‘I am just going outside and may be some time.’ These were the words uttered by Lawrence Oates in 1912 when, as the deterioration of his health threatened the survival of his Terra Nova colleagues, he sacrificed himself to the Antarctic elements. These words bore no resemblance to anything said by Ballymena’s batsmen as we journeyed to the middle at Wallace Park.
We lost and we lost heavily, but at one stage things had been looking well. Besides Allen Coulter, I reckon that Robert McKinley is the best ‘home-grown’ seamer in the NCU, and his four wickets went a long way to reducing Lisburn to 106-8.
From there, however, we bowled length, then length again, and we finished with some more length, just in case Lisburn had not realized the whole ‘length’ theme to our bowling. Our hosts therefore raced to 164-9, with Mark Berry and Graeme Browne capitalizing on our generosity.
In reply, we soon found ourselves in trouble. I got a short ball that stopped, so instead of cutting Davy Simpson through point, I skimmed a one-handed back-hand slice to Bob Rankin as the shot was aborted unsuccessfully. Roger Federer would have been proud of it, but the dismissal taught me that tennis shots at the crease are no more successful than cover drives from the baseline. 0 for 1.
Jack Gibson was suffering from a migraine and could barely see the ball, so it was shortly 0 for 2. At 8 for 4, the victims of Simpson and Brown, our thoughts turned to unwanted ‘records’, but amazingly 63 is not even among the twenty lowest scores in top-flight league and cup matches over the last decade.
Nevertheless, Saturday’s match against Lisburn saw the breaking of one notable record. You may remember the heavily punctuated career of Rashid Latif, the former Pakistani keeper who retired from cricket on at least seventeen occasions, only to make at least sixteen comebacks.
By answering a late call-up on Friday evening, Carl Williams – now 42 and still a cricket badger – overtook Latif as the most frequently retired cricketer in history. Rumours abound that Latif, disgruntled at the news, is dusting down his gloves...
Despite the weather, the Challenge Cup final seems to have been a success. North Down managed to host two finals in consecutive days, Rassie van der Dussen played two of the better innings in the history of the competition, and – even if Instonians may have fancied a reduced chase on the Friday – the result on Saturday rewarded CI’s dominance on the day before.
Of course, I can only make educated guesses about Saturday, for as Cameron-Dow was taking five for nothing, I was likely staring at the ground in Lisburn, contemplating existential questions about the inherent pointlessness of cricket, the meaning of life, and therefore the number 42.
Yet even a fool can see that it took guts for CI to come back from the first-day abandonment and to overcome that disappointment. Moreover, those who have mocked their victory as the inevitable consequence of recruitment should take a look at previous cup-final scorecards.
In 2014, CSNI fielded only three ‘homegrown’ players; in 2013, McCallan and Pienaar top-scored for Waringstown as Eaglestone and Thompson opened the bowling; 2015’s winning CI team even had one more ‘home-grown’ player (3) than Instonians (2). Nobody wins anything with their ‘own’ players these days.
There was much relief when Neil Russell, struck on the head by Johnny Thompson, avoided serious injury. Given what happened in Sydney last year and given the blood, there must have been serious concern. Thankfully the fears were far from realized.
Yet there is another aspect to the story: despite falling onto his wicket, Russell was not given out ‘hit wicket’ because the delivery that struck him had risen above shoulder height and so was called ‘no ball’. Given that anything above head height is now called ‘wide’, current regulations have practically outlawed the short ball. Is this necessarily a good thing?
Well, for one thing, implementing these regulations could be disastrous for the development of younger players. If Ireland is to produce outstanding batsmen in Ireland (as opposed to having them developed in the English county system), learning to play the short ball is essential.
Any half-decent batsman in world cricket can play off the back foot. Yes, dealing with short bowling at 90mph is a fearsome challenge, but anything slower than that is normally treated with contempt: all batsmen worth their salt can cut, pull, hook, duck, and weave.
In this regard, Irish batsmen are already at a disadvantage: we know that trying to bowl short and fast on Irish pitches usually meets with failure. Typically, our pitches are slow and low and so the short ball is fodder, far from the weapon it should be. The short ball is therefore unknown to most Irish batsmen, and improving pitches is essential to the correction of this problem.
Yet if this situation is compounded, if the short ball is nullified by regulations as well as by pitches, and if younger Irish batsmen consequently gain even less experience of playing short bowling, then something fundamental could be lost from the game.