Last weekend saw the end of the 2000 interprovincial championship. Previously the North-West had beaten the NCU and Leinster had beaten Munster, who nowadays are a different proposition as they play as a team each week in the Leinster League. The first shock of the day was to find that the North West were 34 for 5 against Munster in the face of a marvellous opening spell by Ritchie Waddell. However they recovered to a highly respectable 225 for 8 thanks to another good innings from Mark Gillespie of 96 not out, to follow his 85 six weeks ago against the NCU. He was already coming in to Irish contention as a batsman having previously been an Irish squad member (though never capped) as a leg spinner.
In the game at Rathmines, the NCU had reached a disappointing total of 194 all out despite having been 119 for 3, so the final total seemed 50 runs short of par and on a good wicket and fast outfield did not seem sufficient to trouble Leinster, who had 4 internationals at the top of their batting order. At 76 for 1, with the Joyce brothers going well, the writing seemed to be on the wall. However a good spell from Andrew Rose of Instonians, playing his first representative game at the age of 32, dragged things back and the controversial run out of ex-Irish skipper Angus Dunlop was a talking point. From then on good spin bowling from skipper Kyle McCallan and North Down's Andrew White, took the initiative from Leinster and the NCU won reasonably easily by 22 runs. The Ulster fielding and bowling was very impressive and they were magnificently led by McCallan who marshalled the bowlers and fielders in a very intelligent fashion. For the first time in ages NCU looked and performed as a team.
Sunday's game against Munster at Phoenix was a much more comfortable affair. Despite good Munster bowling on a lively wicket Kyle McCallan steered Ulster to 208 for 5 with able assistance from White and Shields. The wicket and McCoubrey's pace were too much for the Munster batting and they submitted to 95 all out. The only discordant note was a thumb injury to White which has kept him out of this weekend's international against Scotland.
Leinster beat the North West at Clontarf to make it a 3-way tie for the title but. if run-rate had come into the computation. the NCU would have won the title. Paul Mooney of North County would easily have been Man of the Match for, after taking 5 for 36 in North West's total of 203, he and brother John shared a century stand from an unpromising position to take Leinster home to victory over the favourites by 5 wickets. Mark Gillespie scored well again (36) and earned his first cap (co-incidentally in place of brother Peter).
Ireland play Scotland in Ayr on Saturday, Sunday and Monday and one has to go back to the last game there - 26 years ago in 1974 - to find Ireland's last victory on Scottish soil. The Ayr club has invited the players who took part in that game and the previous win in 1956 to a day out on Saturday at the club's expense and I look forward to meeting old friends in that Scottish side at the weekend.
The Midland Cricket Conference are touring Ireland next week and play five games against various Irish Development teams, including two at Civil Service on Wednesday and Thursday. It is to be noted that Donaghadee's star, Johnny Hewitt, has been named in the Ulster Development team to play his first representative match on the Wednesday, a just reward for his magnificent feats of recent weeks.
Congratulations to Merrion's Ed Joyce, now with Middlesex, who scored his maiden first class half-century against Notts last week. He followed it up with 40 not out off 28 balls in the Sunday League. He will get another couple of scores and we will start hearing his name mentioned as an England possible. He has more time to see the ball and play it since David Gower. Remember, you read it here first!