The Comber witnessed one of the most dramatic interprovincial finishes of recent times as NCU took control of the 2016 U15 inter-pro tournament. They didn’t have it all their own way as it required a final dramatic partnership of 25 between Hunter and Scott to steer them home against the plucky southerners.
The day started with both sides on 2 points after opening day victories. However there was a late ground switch from CIYMS to an artificial in North Down due to the recent bad weather. Unfortunately this message was not relayed properly with many supporters arriving at the wrong ground to their dismay. Despite the forecast and threatening clouds, the ground was deemed well enough to play on at 11am and the Southern XI once again won the toss and batted. Carey came into the team, recovered from yesterday’s illness and Fionn O’Sullivan also made his debut in this year’s tournament for the Southern XI.
Alam Baloch and new partner Johns opened for the Southern XI but within the first over, Johns was back in the pavilion, bowled by a cracker from NCU’s opening bowler Woods. This reunited Alam Baloch with his opening partner from the previous day, Martin Kavanagh. Together they slowly began to rebuild, playing confidently off the front foot, but not getting value for their shots due to the slow outfield. By the 5th over the anticipated rain began and continued for the majority of the next two hours. The umpires should be applauded for their decision to keep the players on throughout the drizzle, much to the delight of all players. The parents on the other hand were not too impressed however as the rain and cold made for pretty miserable viewing. Luckily they were kept entertained by the Southern XI’s play as both Alam Baloch and Martin Kavanagh played their shots against the opening bowlers. Spin was introduced early, in the 9th over, and Alam Baloch welcomed this with a smash for 4 over mid-off. However the bowler Scott had the last laugh as he removed both Alam Baloch (for 21) and McGuire (0) in the 12th over. Both batsmen fell LBW and the mat seemed to be doing a little in the wet conditions. This left the Southern XI in a bit of trouble at 43-3 and many wondered would they retreat into their shell to avoid losing wickets. O’Sullivan came in at five and showed his intent from the beginning with an early clip for 4 through square leg and a couple of well run 2’s in the deep. The story of the middle overs however was the control shown by the NCU spin duo of Carson and Scott. Boundaries were hard to come by and the batsmen built up their scores by running well between the wickets. Just after drinks, Martin Kavanagh (37) chipped one to mid-off, off Carson, and when they finished their spell, the spinners’ combined figures were 20-5-49-3. A fantastic return considering the wet conditions and after 30 overs the Southern XI were in a spot of bother at 102-5. However they were rescued by a familiar face from the previous day in Whitaker, and a new face in O’Sullivan. They started off slowly but Whitaker stole the initiative and hit a couple of boundaries over cow and square leg to get himself going. In the next over, he miss-hit one but the fielder was unable to take the catch running backwards. Whitaker’s response was a massive slog sweep for 6 over mid-wicket. O’ Sullivan then decided to get in on the act and hit a nice 4 through cover and another through mid-wicket. A couple of balls later, he brought up a well-deserved half century (80 balls) with a single to long on.
Suddenly the NCU players were very silent, sensing that the Southern XI players were going to put up a tougher total than they expected. Thankfully for them, they got some respite when Whitaker was bowled for a brilliant 33 by McNamara. Jones was next in. However he fell soon, trying to score quickly for the team, and was caught in the deep off McNamara for 3. Hussain fell in a similar fashion and it seemed that the Southern innings might peter out for under 200. Fortunately, O’Sullivan was still in and he helped the team total pass that milestone with a couple of 4’s. He too lost his wicket playing his shots, bowled by Walsh for a magnificent 73. Carey was last man in and he beautifully lofted his first ball for a one bounce 4 over extra cover. Not the shot of a tail-ender surely. Good running followed between himself and MacNulty, and when the latter was out for 11, the Southern XI were all out for 218 in 49.5 overs.
The interval was short and sweet. NCU were rewarded for their fantastic over rate by having to face a tricky 40 minute period before the scheduled lunch break. During this interval, supporters on both sides agreed that the Southern XI total was par and a good chase was going to be required. Jones and MacNulty opened the bowling for the Southern XI. Their control was down on the previous day however and after a couple of loose balls, the NCU were able to progress to 29-0 after 6 overs. Spin was introduced in the hope of slowing the scoring rate. However both Carey and Hussain struggled initially to control the wet ball. Miss-fields didn’t help their figures, but Hussain made up for all that by picking up the first wicket with Walsh chipping one to MacKay at short cover. A couple of overs later the dangerous Malone hit one to to fine leg but a mix up followed with his partner. Carey didn’t panic and threw straight into the bowlers hands to remove Malone at his end. Lunch was swiftly taken with the NCU on 43-2 off 9.4. Honours were even at the break.
After a good feed and with rain still looming, the players resumed and Hussain continued his fine form to remove Carson soon after. The threat of spin diminished however as Clarke and Warke settled into a nice rhythm, finding lots of gaps and putting the bad balls away to the boundary. Whitaker was brought on to put more pace on the ball and was instantly rewarded as Clarke hit a full toss straight into Carey’s hands at mid-on. Burton came in and continued where Clarke left off. Singles were easily found and too many boundaries were being leaked as the Southern XI bowlers tried for wickets. At 124-4 at drinks, NCU looked to have the game in the bag, but knowing inter-provincial cricket, anything could happen. The skipper threw the ball to Jones and Hussain and both rewarded him with control and a wicket each. Jones beat the bat on countless occasions and eventually had Warke loop one up to point. Hussain started to take advantage of the drying conditions and his control improved dramatically. He had Burton LBW and bowled out to finish his impressive spell of 10-1-33-3.
By this stage the match was well and truly in the balance and it was nip and tuck for the next few overs. Southern XI knew that a wicket was vital and it arrived when McGuire had McNamara LBW for 19. The rain started to fall again and for once the scorers were the centre of attention, everyone keen to find out the Duckworth Lewis par. Everybody hoped that this game wouldn’t be decided by a computer. Despite the weather, the fielding skipper brought on the spin of Carey from one end to gain some much needed control and to build pressure. Both were achieved immediately despite the wet, slippery ball. For the NCU their last hope seemed to rest with Glass and Hunter, both were intent on playing their shots and keeping the pressure on the bowlers. MacNulty was brought back on and his extra pace accounted for Glass, leaving the NCU 175-8 off 40.1 overs. 44 off 60 was the equation, surely the Southern XI were favourites. They gained further momentum gained when Carey’s frequent changes of pace confused Woods and he skied one to O’Sullivan in the deep. The entire Southern XI team and supporters were ecstatic, 2 wins from 2 surely beckoned. Whitaker and Jones were chosen to bowl the death overs and after 47 the equation was 20 off 18, 9 wickets down. The NCU still held out hope as number 9 Hunter was still there. First ball of the 48th, Hunter hit a full ball from Whitaker straight towards long off. As the fielder set himself, the ball kept rising and just beat his out-stretched hand to go for 6. Small margins dictate cricket and suddenly NCU needed 14 off 17. It was down to 11 off 12 by the time Jones ran in to bowl the 49th. The rain was really milling it down now and there was a race against time to keep the ball dry.
First ball Hunter advanced and made a full ball into a full toss that he smashed for 4 through cover. Jones wasn’t deterred though and followed it with a straighter delivery which had players and coaches alike screaming for an LBW. The umpire was unmoved. Tension built further when Hunter walloped the next ball for 4 too through cover. The NCU supporters finally found their voices as they sensed an amazing come from behind victory. The Southern XI players didn’t lose heart. They were loud and supportive in the field and still held hope of completing the victory themselves. The next delivery from Jones clipped the pad and ran down to fine leg. The batsmen initially looked to take the single. Halfway down Hunter changed his mind and suddenly his partner was stranded halfway down the pitch. Unfortunately the ball was at the wrong end and after a dramatic dive, Scott made it home safely. The comeback was complete two balls later when Hunter hit another 4 through cover. The Southern XI players fell dejected to the ground, while the NCU players swarmed the pitch to congratulate their hero. Hunter finished unbeaten on 36 from 37 balls.
After the match, the NCU players were jubilant after their victory. They knew that as along as defeat was avoided against Leinster, then they would be crowned tournament victors. However all hope is not lost for the Southern XI either. Victory against NWCU, coupled with an NCU loss would leave them tied on 4 points each. Then it would be down to the statisticians and number crunchers to decide a winner.
For the Southern XI, it was a bitter pill to swallow. However they should be very proud of the fight they showed today when it looked like the game was going against them. It was an amazing game of cricket and congratulations NCU.
View the full scorecard on CricHQ by clicking here.