Martin Moreland bowls up cup win for Down
Martin Moreland lifted the O'Neill's Ulster Cup last night in the rain at Comber and in his first season as captain of North Down made the big decision that proved the turning point of the final.
Instonians were flying towards a record fifth success in their fifth final in the competition on 102 for 1, chasing North Down's 233 for six. Moreland's first two overs had been hit to all parts of The Green for 21, but to the surprise of everyone - and maybe even the batsmen - he gave himself a third over.
Three balls later, he bamboozled Andrew White and when spin twin Jacob Mulder did the same to Nicolai Smith in the very next over, Instonians were not so confident - two wickets closer to their notoriously long tail.
Indeed, not only had they lost all confidence to continue their charge but new batsmen James Shannon and Farhad Iqbal became ultra-cautious and they scored only 11 singles in the next seven overs. Crucially they also lost a fourth wicket - Moreland having Iqbal caught behind, brilliantly by Peter Shields - to put them behind on the DLS par score.
Rain was imminent, not that Shannon or Eric Layard seemed to worry as they failed to score from 15 of the 19 balls in the partnership. And when the umpires took the teams off, just after 5pm they were still 10 runs behind.
Hopes of getting back on were dashed by a heavy downpour and 75 minutes later Neil Russell, in his last match before he takes up his new role with the Manchester ice hockey franchise, was making the losing captain's speech.
It was thanks to Russell that Instonians were in control for so long - a typical belligerent 47 from 28 balls, with five fours and three sixes leaving his side on 79 for one after 10 overs (32 runs ahead on DLS). Unfortunately for him the rain took another 14 overs to arrive during which time they scored 41 for three.
In contrast, the North Down innings has started ever so steadily and built to a thrilling crescendo. Pieter Malan was responsible for that, hitting his last eight balls of the innings for seven fours and a six as the home side blasted 44 off the last two overs by Stephen Bunting and Iqbal, with Peter Davison also clearing the boundary. Malan finished 98 not out, his 63rd and final delivery inches short of his fifth six.
The opening stand of 82, in 20 overs, by Andrew Sutherland and Daniel Graham laid the platform for their South African professional, who was also playing his last match of the season. His absence will probably mean this is joint league leaders' North Down's only trophy of the season but that ensured celebrations went well into the night for only their second trophy since 2011.
For Instonians, it was a second final defeat at The Green this month, following their Challenge Cup loss to CIYMS, the day after they surrendered their league title with defeat at Carrickfergus.
Derriaghy are in pole position to return to the Ulster Bank Premier League for the first time since 2008 after nearest challengers Muckamore suffered a wash-out in their rearranged game against Downpatrick yesterday.
Only seven overs were possible before rain had the final say, leaving Derriaghy eight points clear at the top, with Muckamore having only three games to play; the leaders have two.