Unbeaten Service cricket team step up title bid
When Civil Service North go into Sunday’s Ulster Bank Premier League showdown against North Down at Stormont, they hope to be defending a remarkable 20-match unbeaten record.
The last time Nigel Jones’ side lost to an NCU rival was on May 3, the first match of this extended, rain-ravaged league season.
Thirteen league games, four Challenge Cup victories and a couple of Twenty20 games later may still leave CSN a possible four games away from winning their first league championship but they have never been in a better position since North of Ireland last won the old Section One title outright in 1987.
And to the surprise of no-one, least of all North Down skipper Peter Shields, Kiwi professional Ewen Thompson and Surrey’s Ireland international Gary Wilson will be in the CSN line-up for Saturday’s game at Bangor and the first match of the titans.
“Thompson has put a lot of effort in and he will want to see it through.
“I know he has contractual commitments back in New Zealand but I’d have been more surprised if he wasn’t playing,” said Shields.
“But I’ve no problem with that. It means both are at full-strength for a possible title decider and that’s the way it should be.”
It surely is a mouth-watering prospect and Jones has confirmed it will be played on one of the international pitches.
“It will not be a belter, as it got quite a soaking on Monday, but it should give everyone a chance.
“It can be reduced to a 10-overs slog but the weather looks fair for the weekend so hopefully it will be a good contest, befitting a league decider.”
The teams have met before this season, in the Challenge Cup semi-final at Comber, but North Down were missing Taimur Khan and Peter Connell while Thompson also had to sit out the game.
Both captains still feel they have the upper hand.
“We lost the semi-final in the bowling department,” said Shields, “but at full strength we’re more than capable, as we have proven over the last number of years.”
Undoubtedly, 20 overs shared by their professional and Ireland’s opening bowler will make them stronger opponents.
However, the majority of Thompson’s wickets for CSN have come at Stormont and Jones expects last year’s runaway leading wicket-taker in the NCU to make the difference.
“North Down opening batsman Joe Montgomery has had a good season but it is Ryan Haire who sets the tone for them,” responds Jones.
“If we can get him early we will be in a strong position and with ET swinging the ball away from him, he will have to bat well to survive.”
It is easily forgotten, but the joint leaders both have an away match to negotiate tomorrow and, of course, neither can afford to slip up.
North Down face CIYMS who have still everything to play for in their battle against relegation while CSN’s game is against the only NCU team to have beaten them, 140 days ago.
Two victories will not guarantee the winners the title but it should force the losers to win the return at Comber next Saturday.
At least one of the relegation places will be decided on Sunday in another titanic match, at Queensway; Derriaghy meet Cliftonville and the losers will be playing Section Two cricket next season.
If CIYMS win two of their three games this weekend - they are also away to Waringstown today and at home to Bangor on Sunday - then both their rivals will be doomed.