Last week the Irish Cricket Union staged its first two games at Stormont, the home ground of Civil Service, since it was marked out as Ireland's International venue, north of the border. On Wednesday an Ulster Development XI lost to the Midlands Cricket Conference by 6 wickets, but on Thursday a much stronger Irish Development XI triumphed by 125 runs.
I was there on both days and would like to state some views on the further development of the venue. It is a large, flat and well manicured playing area with 4 turf wickets and a practice area prepared 3 years ago to the highest specifications. The same wicket was used for both matches. On the Wednesday it was low and slow (not surprisingly after Monday's deluge) and on the Thursday had speeded up considerably, promising well for the future. All that remains to be done is an extra 20 hours rolling a week in the early part of the season.
Catering remains a problem. Cricket lunches are moveable feasts depending on the state of the game and someone (preferably from Civil Service and with cricket knowledge) has to keep the caterer up to date, as he has other Civil Service Sports Association members to feed on a daily basis. What was disappointing last week was the total absence on either day of any member of the CS Cricket section to help smooth things along on Stormont's debut. First impressions are usually right.
Some cosmetic improvements need to be made and I am sure will be, before the next big event. The sightscreens are totally inadequate and the scorebox needs great improvement and re-siting. Several boundaries are really too large - a 75 metre limit ought to be tried.
As for the games themselves, they told watching national coach Ken Rutherford little except that Ballymena's David Kennedy can bat and that Marty Dalzell of Instonians is an under-rated young bowler. Johnny Hewitt of Donaghadee finally got his chance and while he had no enormous success, he certainly did not look out of place. Andy Patterson may have inched marginally ahead of Peter Shields in the competition to be reserve wicket-keeper in the winter squad and Derek Heasley produced his most controlled spell of bowing for some time, but unfortunately no runs. Ricky McDaid of Limavady also impressed with both bat and ball.
The cricket season is fast drawing to a close and while there are various promotion and relegation issues till to be settled, the last big domestic occasion - The Royal Liver Final between Limavady and Donemana takes place tomorrow at Beechgrove in Derry. Limavady are strong favourites even without their in-form professional Narse. They have already won league and cup in the North-West (only being beaten by Strabane in a competitive match this season) and only a superhuman effort by Donemana can stop them achieving their second successive treble.
North of Ireland beat Bangor last Saturday and ensured promotion back into Section I. It seems that the side being relegated bounces straight back the following season. Also the season spent in Section II seems to have a beneficial effect because the side re-entering Section I, Ballymena in 1998, North Down in 1999 and possibly Waringstown this season, go straight on to win the Senior League. What price North in 2001?