NCU plans await Executive roadmap
Ian Callender (Belfast Telegraph)
The Northern Cricket Union are planning for a full season this summer but are waiting for a roadmap out of the lockdown before confirming the schedule.
The board, which met this week, are still waiting on Irish Cup and inter-provincial dates to be confirmed by Cricket Ireland, although until the NI Executive clarify the way ahead for the province, all the NCU can do is make provisional plans.
If they get the green light for a full season – which could start as late as June – the Premier League fixtures will be the same as last year, with the eight teams playing each other twice; last year the season started in mid-July and the Robinson Services League Cup was reduced to a seven game for each team, followed by semi-finals and a final.
The Challenge Cup did not take place in 2020 as all fixtures were restricted to a maximum of 20 overs per side but this year the competition will be a ‘priority’ and the draw will take place as soon as the season gets the go-ahead.
The T20 Cup has been scheduled as a league competition this year with the teams in one eight-team group with the top four going through to knock-out semi-finals. Games will be played on Thursday or Friday evenings with the home team, having the choice of day.
For the second successive season there will be no relegation from the Premier League with the top flight reverting to a 10-team league from 2022.
North Down will be hoping that Paul Stirling, who signed for them last year, will be available again this summer and the Ireland international was in scintillating form last night in the second eliminator match at the Abu Dhabi T20 League.
Stirling hit an astonishing 48 off 12 balls, his runs coming exclusively in boundaries – three fours and six sixes – in an opening partnership of 55 with West Indian legend Chris Gayle.
His first three maximums came off successive balls in the first over from South African left arm pace man Wayne Parnell and Team Abu Dhabi had 40 on the board at the end of the second as Stirling added another four and two sixes to his tally.
Both batsmen were out in successive balls at the start of the fourth over however – Stirling to a fine catch at deep mid-off - and a further five wickets fell as only 59 runs were added in the remaining seven overs, with 16 the second top score.
But 49 from Rovman Powell, who scored a century against Ireland at the 2019 World Cup Qualifier in Harare, and 46 not out from West Indies team-mate Lendl Simmons, a cousin of former Ireland coach Phil, won the game for Northern Warriors by seven wickets with two balls to spare to book their place in the final.