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Ijaz on way to replace super Pienaar

Waringstown last night announced that they hoped Ijaz Ahmed, their former professional, will replace Obus Pienaar as their overseas star.

The 22-year-old, who has made such an impression on NCU cricket this year, leaves on Monday to join the South Africa Emerging squad for their annual tour of Australia. Pienaar has scored almost 1,200 runs in just 18 innings with the Villagers.

Ijaz Ahmed, who was at The Lawn from 2005 to 2008, was Waringstown's only option if they wanted to replace Pienaar with another overseas player as he is the only one registered, but the uncertain timeline over possible visa problems - Ijaz is still at home in Pakistan - left the club committee with a difficult decision last night.

However, with Josh Hall possibly unavailable for two weeks because of his call-up to the Ireland Under 19 World Cup squad - and Lee Nelson and James Hall also on Ireland duty, it was a 'no- brainer' to invite the Pakistani if they wanted to field their strongest XI and maintain their charge for the Ulster Bank Premier League title.

Waringstown believe it is "unlikely" that Ijaz will arrive before the end of the month and he is ineligible anyway for the Challenge Cup final on July 29.

Ironically, Pienaar's last match tomorrow is at Belmont, against CIYMS, the team that the South African scored his monumental 244 against in the second match of the season - the game when he became a must-see attraction.

Waringstown have played only eight league games so far but hopes that they would fit in one of their rearranged games on Sunday, against Bangor and Lisburn who are both idle, were met with good excuses - surprise, surprise - that they couldn't possible play them until after July 17.

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Halfway through the season it already looks like a two-horse race for the title with Waringstown and North Down eight points clear of the pack.

The champions are at home to Muckamore tomorrow and the visitors are boosted by the return of club captain Andy McCulloch and Davy Cardwell to the team after injury for the first time this season.

McCulloch has had surgery to both his knees and, unlike slow left armer Cardwell, has not even played a game for the Seconds.

"I have chosen probably the flattest track in the country for my return but it's five weeks since my last operation so I have made myself available for selection although Dunners (Brian Dunlop) will retain the captaincy this weekend. I didn't want to come straight back in and disrupt everything and I will leave it up to him to decide if he doesn't want it anymore," said McCulloch.

"By Sunday night (after Muckamore play Civil Service North at Stormont) I will probably not be able to walk again!"

Weekend fixtures

Ulster Bank Premier League (today (2.30pm): Ballymena v Lisburn. Tomorrow (noon): Ballymena v Bangor, Civil Service North v Carrickfergus, CIYMS v Waringstown, Instonians v Lisburn, North Down v Muckamore. Sunday: Civil Service North v Muckamore, CIYMS v Instonians.

Section One (tomorrow): Cliftonville v Lurgan, Derriaghy v Saintfield, Downpatrick v Millpark, Dundrum v Donacloney. Sunday: Cliftonville v Woodvale, Downpatrick v Derriaghy, Dundrum v Lurgan, Saintfield v Millpark.

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