A batting blitzkrieg by Paul Stirling was the catalyst that hurtled Northern Knights to victory over table toppers Leinster Lightning in Comber today.
The five wicket win with 37 balls to spare has also blown the IP50 title race wide open which can only be good for Ireland cricket. The new format was designed to make the tournament more competitive, and today’s result has vindicated that decision.
Chasing an under-par target of 244, Stirling ensured that there was no prospect of an overly cautious start that would put pressure on his side. When he fell to the last ball of the sixth over, he had blasted 8 fours and 5 sixes with all but two of his 64 runs coming from those boundary hits. With his side on 71-2 he had almost singlehandedly reduced the initial asking rate of 4.88, to a walk in the park 3.9.
Crucially, even though Harry Tector fell for a duck one run later, Stirling’s innings had allowed the following batters the latitude to play themselves in and build a partnership without taking any risks. Over the next 29 overs Jeremy Lawlor and Luke Georgeson, both in the process of qualifying for Ireland, stroked the ball around with ease and when Georgeson finally fell, their 138-run partnership had taken the Knights to within 34 runs of victory with almost 14 overs left.
Lawlor had endured a tough time in Bangladesh with the Wolves in March and there were question marks as to his ability to succeed at this level. However, today coming in in the fifth over he was still there when the winning run was hit and never looked in the least bit of trouble as he compiled a List A best of 80 not out from 112 deliveries which included 8 fours and a six. Given that he faced five Ireland international bowlers, he will have gone home tonight with the satisfaction of playing his most accomplished white ball innings.
His batting partner, Georgeson has already shown that he has the credentials to succeed at this level when he top scored with 46 in the first match between these two sides a couple of weeks ago. His cool calm demeanour has marked him out as someone who would be a decided asset in the Ireland middle order and being left-handed is also a benefit. He also reached his first List A half century and when he was dismissed, he had faced 87 balls and struck 8 assured fours. As he had earlier taken 3-44 with his medium pacers, he would normally have had a realistic claim on man of the match had it not been for Ireland’s most dynamic batter.
Barry McCarthy and Josh Little had borne the brunt of Stirling’s tour de force but they both showed the resilience to bounce back, especially McCarthy who conceded 27 runs in his first two overs but just 37 in his following eight while taking three wickets.
Simi Singh was his usual parsimonious self, giving up just 31 runs from his full allocation while David O’Halloran again demonstrated that he belongs at this level conceding a mere 23 runs off one ball short of eight overs.
The fact that Lightning even got to 243 was down to Ireland captain Andrew Balbirnie and his Lightning counterpart George Dockrell. The pair added 120 runs for the fourth wicket with Balbirnie yet again demonstrating that he has taken over Ed Joyce’s mantle as Ireland’s classiest batsman.
He became the first man to score two centuries in this format since the revival of the inter-pros in 2013. His 126 off 151 deliveries with, 15 fours and two maximums, in his first innings on the island this year will have lifted the spirits of Ireland supporters ahead of the trip to Netherlands in a couple of weeks.
Dockrell continued his remarkable batting form in the Lightning shirt as he yet again passed fifty. When he fell for 58 to a fine running catch to Tector as he tried to force the pace, he finally got himself an average for the competition this year. By any standard, an average of 209 is something to be enormously proud of and it is inconceivable that he will miss out on the squad for the Netherlands.
The Knight’s battery of medium pacers never allowed the current champions to get away with Matthew Foster particularly impressive while leg spinner Ben White followed up his eye-catching performance in the final Wolves match last week with another mature and economic spell of 1-38 from his ten overs.
Lightning will return to Dublin tonight with a lot to think about especially the support batting to Balbirnie and Dockrell. The Knight’s on the other hand will relish hosting the North-West Warriors at Stormont next Tuesday in a match that will put the winners alongside Lightning at the top of the table.
That match which starts at 10.45 will, as always, be comprehensively covered on CricketEurope with ball-by-ball commentary by Ian Callender.
Leinster Lightning 243-7 in 50 overs (A. Balbirnie 126, G. Dockrell 58, L. Georgeson 3-44, G. McCarter 1-26) lost to Northern Knights 244-5 in 43.5 overs (J. Lawlor 80*, P. Stirling 64, L. Georgeson 58, B. McCarthy 3-64, S. Singh 1-31) by 5 wickets.