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Cricket: Skipper Jones ready for big tests

Civil Service North face their first major test of the season this weekend with a double header which will determine their future in two cup competitions.

Ireland international Nigel accepts it has been a fairly easy ride so far this season in both league and knock-out tournaments but ahead of an Ulster Bank Challenge Cup tie against Instonians and a ClubTurf Ulster Cup clash with Strabane, the CSN skipper says the opposition don’t concern him.

“My message to the players this season is not to focus on who we’re playing, but to concentrate on what we do well,” says Jones.

The big bonus this season is the return as a batsman of his former Ireland team-mate Regan West, who is in the starting line-up for the home game against Instonians.

And new professional Griffin Nieuwoudt announced his arrival with a stunning innings at Carrick last week.

“He reminds me of Barney (former professional Kieran Noema-Barnett) but with a better technique,” said Jones.

“He can hit a big ball and has the advantage of being a left hander. He was recommended by Obus (Pienaar, his South African counterpart who made an instant impression with Waringstown last season).”

And Jones, who only admits to ‘finding a bit of form’ is too modest to mention that in all NCU league and cup matches so far this season he has taken the most wickets (16), at the best average (6.25) and also has the best batting aggregate (348 runs).

In the bowling stakes, Alistair Graham, the new signing from Saintfield, is not far behind with 13 wickets and with Allan Coulter having the happy knack of picking up the big names in the opposition, there is a consistency which has been lacking in the Stormont sides of recent years.

Now to prove it when it matters, and Jones adds: “This weekend gives us two chances to progress in cup competitions. With no disrespect to the Ulster Cup — which we won three years ago — the Challenge Cup is the big one.

“We let ourselves down in last year’s final (against Waringstown) so we are keen to put that right.

“A win, against a strong Instonians side, will also give us the confidence to go on in the other competitions.”

Waringstown holders are away to Lisburn, where they have already won in the league this season, while North Down, chasing an eighth win this millennium, will expect to triumph at Downpatrick.

There will be one Section One side in the last four with Lurgan favourites to repeat league victory against Muckamore last month.

Both last night’s Lagan Valley Steel T20 matches were abandoned at half distance but while a bowl-out took place at Carrickfergus — Lisburn winning 2-1 — the umpires and teams in the Civil Service North v North Down game headed home and prepared for a replay next week.

A decision will be taken today by the tournament organisers, giving the official ruling on both games.

The highlight of the play was another big-hitting century by Nieuwoudt. He hit 107 not out from 66 balls with 11 fours and four sixes in CSN’s 172 for three.

Carrick had held the upper hand in the other match, dismissing Lisburn for 107.

Tomorrow’s Fixtures: Ulster Bank Challenge Cup quarter finals: Civil Service North v Instonians, Downpatrick v North Down, Lurgan v Muckamore, Lisburn v Waringstown, Cregagh v Lisburn II, Armagh v CIYMS II, Laurelvale v North Down II, Cooke Collegians v Templepatrick.

Section One: Donacloney v Woodvale, Derriaghy v Cliftonville.

Section Two: Academy v Drumaness, BISC v Portadown. Sunday: Armagh v Academy.

Belfast Telegraph