IT lasted only six overs but Paul Stirling’s memorable innings was enough to win him the man of the match as Northern Knights inflicted a rare inter-provincial Cup defeat on Leinster Lightning.
The holders have won the Cup for the last seven years but opening bowlers and international team-mates Barry McCarthy and Josh Little, the latter playing his first game of the season, had no answer to the Stirling blitzkrieg which launched the Knights’ victorious reply in such sensational fashion.
Set 244 to win, Knights had scored 71 of them in by the end of the sixth over with Stirling’s contribution an astonishing 64, with half of his 26 balls racing to the boundary, five of them clearing the ropes by some distance.
With the help of four byes from the first ball, 21 came off the first over and a single off the last ball kept Stirling in strike to face Little’s first over. The first ball flew over the mid-wicket boundary and his fifth boundary came off the second ball.
Little was to bore the brunt off Stirling’s brutal assault, mainly because James McCollum faced McCarthy’s third over and didn’t survive it but after Stirling hit the left arm paceman for three more fours and a six in the sixth over – bringing up his 50 in 21 balls – he finally got an edge and Lorcan Tucker gratefully accepted the chance behind the wicket. It was 71 for two.
But while the mental damage had been done to the Lightning attack, nothing should be taken away from Jeremy Lawlor and Luke Georgeson who calmly and skilfully built on Stirling’s innings in a chanceless partnership of 138 for the fourth wicket.
As Stirling admitted afterwards: “It was a lucky man of the match award because there were a few others who deserved it. But it was good fun. I got a knock the day before (for North Down), it’s a nice wicket here with a quick outfield so if you play strong shots you usually come out on top.”
Lawlor, a former Glamorgan professional who has moved to Carrickfergus this year, saw the job through with 80 not out and Georgeson scored 58, his third half-century in four days after two for Civil Service North. Both will be worth watching in the NCU this season.
After winning the toss, Knights had enjoyed the perfect start with in-form Graeme McCarter dismissing Kevin O’Brien with the first ball of the match and Mark Adair following up in the next over with the wicket of Jack Tector.
But Andrew Balbirnie was the third Lightning player making his seasonal debut and if Stirling hadn’t have been playing would have taken the starring role. Unlike his friend, though, the Ireland captain batted long and scored his 11th List A century, before he was the last of Georgeson’s three wickets.
Balbirinie’s final statistics were 126 from 151 balls with 15 fours and two sixes, only holing out to a boundary catch in the penultimate over.
McCarthy hit the next three balls for four, six and six but everything was soon to be overshadowed by Stirling.