Leinster Lightning have retained the inter-provincial Cup for a seventh successive season with victory in their final game against North West Warriors at Eglinton.
The remarkable batting form of George Dockrell continued and Ireland captain Andrew Balbirnie, in his last innings before facing Netherlands next week, saw Lightning home by four wickets with seven balls to spare.
But it was never that close. The only scare they had was when Dockrell was caught on the deep mid-wicket boundary and Simi Singh followed seven balls later, but first Jamie Grassi and then Barry McCarthy stayed with Balbirnie to complete another almost faultless 50-over season.
Northern Knights had the satisfaction of inflicting the champions' only defeat and their game against North West Warriors, on a date still to be confirmed, will decide second place. Both teams have still to play Munster Reds, the Knights facing them at Pembroke tomorrow in a venue switch from The Mardyke, because the Cork ground is still unplayable after last week’s rains.
It would have looked bad on the Ireland selectors if Lightning had not triumphed yesterday. They had nine of the 19 players who will be travelling to Utrecht for their next World Cup Super League games.
To be fair to the North West side, all their big names performed, although William Porterfield will be disappointed to be out for another score in the 30s after hitting six fours in a promising start.
Andrew McBrine faced 112 balls for his 72, and although it included only four fours and two sixes, he was the backbone while wickets fell around him. Indeed, apart from his stand with Porterfield for the second wicket, it was only the last, between Nathan McGuire (53 off 46 balls with six fours and two sixes) and Craig Young which reached 50.
Young and McBrine both starred with the ball but the only support they got in trying to tame the Lightning batsmen came from the dependable Graham Hume, who claimed the early wicket of Kevin O’Brien, which must place in serious doubt the latter’s chances of opening for Ireland next week.
After 12 overs, thanks to a suicidal run out by Lorcan Tucker, Lightning were 46 for three but that only let in Dockrell.
Recalled to the Ireland team on the back of his 297 runs in four innings this season, he looked more confident than ever – it was also reflected in his bowling where he also was back among the wickets at an economical four runs an over.
With the bat, he brought up his fifth consecutive 50 from 71 balls and the biggest shock of the day was when he holed out 33 runs short of a second century.
But Balbirnie, so cautious that he had only two fours in his first 45 runs – he finished with eight and a six - was the immovable object and augers well for Ireland’s prospects next week.