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North Down cricketers put champagne on ice

By Ian Callender

Published 29/09/2008

Two years after losing the Ulster Bank League title in the committee room, North Down face another wait to confirm they are the 2008 outright champions.

Victory on Saturday against Civil Service North, their only remaining rivals, and Carrickfergus yesterday, by six wickets, left them one point clear at the top of the table.

But the Stormont side, who defeated Instonians yesterday by 169 runs, have promised to put in an appeal to claim their share of the title after being deducted a point for bowling their overs too slowly in the first league game between the teams eight days ago.

It will be amazing if the NCU, however, don’t back the umpires’ report which timed them starting the 50th and last over at three hours 16 minutes, one minute outside the maximum.

Match officials must have the final say or else there is little point having them. Whether a one-point deduction for the offence is a suitable penalty is a different matter — it is a bye-law and not a rule ratified by the clubs — but that is an argument for another day.

At Wallace Park in September 2006, when North Down also finished top of the table after their defeat of Lisburn, they must have feared the worst with Peter Connell not properly registered for the first seven wins of the season. Waringstown, second in the table, were duly declared champions.

However, there was no hint of apprehension at The Green yesterday as the members in the pavilion gave the team a standing ovation when Taimur Khan’s unbeaten 87 ensured their 16th and decisive victory.

“Civil Service North have raised the bar this year, no question, and it could easily have been a share, but what made this championship success even more satisfying was that we lost three players before the start of the season (David Kennedy, the NCU’s leading runs scorer last season, Neil Russell and Marty Dalzell), we were without Peter Connell, (Ireland’s opening bowler) for half the season, Ryan (Haire) missed four matches and Ralph Coetzee wasn’t available for them all.

“After all that, it is a tremendous achievement to have retained the title,” said skipper Peter Shields.

“At the start of the season our number one goal is always to win the league but we want to do better (and be successful in the inter-union cups). It’s fair to say we still have much to prove but for the moment we’ll accept being the best in the NCU.”

Because of the midweek ruling, Saturday’s game was always going to be the big one and although they had lost the previous two games against CSN, even without Connell — who had left with the Ireland squad to prepare for their Intercontinental Cup tie in Namibia, starting on Friday — they rose to the occasion.

Ryan Haire, after seven innings without a half century, chose the club’s biggest day of the season to score 80 but it was Joe Montgomery who got the biggest cheer when he ran ‘a two’ to get to 17, his 1,000th run of a season which started superbly and reached the perfect finale.

Haire needed 31 yesterday to reach that landmark but he fell 16 runs short.

Still, with seven league winners’ medals in 10 years, a few runs here or there was not going to spoil the party. That is a record everyone at North Down can be rightly proud of.

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