16 July 2009

As the season gets closer to the business end this weekend the main focus will be on the semi-finals of the TCH Challenge Cup...

...and both matches have the potential to be crackers.

Probably most attention will be centred on The Lawn where those great rivals Waringstown and North Down go head to head again.  Between them they have won the Challenge Cup outright on 51 occasions and Waringstown are looking to make it four consecutive appearances in the final.

Looking at the form of both sides going into the game it would easy to make North Down clear favourites, they are in a rich vein at the moment.  Indeed one needs look no further than last Sunday’s dress rehearsal when North Down came away from The Lawn with four points in the league.

North Down have bounced back from what by their own high standards has been a modest start to the season and while Waringstown lost ground in the title race with two defeats at home, having lost as well to CSN on Saturday, it would be foolish to write them off completely.

By contrast North Down are starting to have that ominous look again as they moved to the top of the table.  The bowling will be strengthened by the return of Peter Connell from Ireland duty and Ralph Coetzee is back in the squad giving captain Peter Shields another slow bowling option.

So what chance has Waringstown then?  One man certainly does not make a team but the home side have looked a completely side when Kyle McCallan has been in the team and Jonny Bushe must hope he does the trick again.

He was the TCH Man of the Match in the quarterfinal win over CIYMS, taking four wickets, but it was his sublime batting display that had those who witnessed it remarking that we were watching a man at the peak of his powers and in top nick to boot, the only surprise was his dismissal but by that stage the victory was already certain.

The key question is will he find the support from those around him and is his presence in any way negated by the fact that Lee Nelson is away with the Ireland Under 19 squad?  Certainly James Hall will be hoping that he can establish his credentials again with a major innings at the top of the order.

On the bowling front Waringstown will be relying heavily on professional Kottehewa, Simon Harrison, McCallan and fellow international spinner Gary Kidd to staunch the flow of runs from the much vaunted North Down top order.

At Shaw’s Bridge it is very much a case of the new order going head to head as Instonians take on a Lisburn side reborn under the captaincy of Greg Thompson.  Neither side has appeared in a final since Instonians lost to Woodvale in 1998 and for Lisburn it was two years before that when they lost to Lurgan.

For the last couple of season’s the adage has been that if Gerry Strydom does not make runs then Lisburn lose, certainly not the case anymore.  Who knows what might have happened last weekend when the rain intervened at North Down with Thompson seemingly on his way to a second successive century and with Ryan Ervine making 95.  North Down’s target of 115 off 26 was a lot easier than potentially chasing down 260 plus off 50.

For Instonians captain Eugene Moleon the bigger concern would be that by his own high standards Strydom is having a quiet season and you get the feeling that someone is going to pay and very soon.

By all accounts Moleon is doing a fantastic job both on and off the field and perhaps Instonians can finally shake of the label of a talented but underachieving side.  The club has only won the Challenge Cup once in its history and that was back in 1964.

Perhaps this is the opportunity for players like Jon Stevenson finally to make their mark.  As a teenager Stevenson gave up his place in the 1998 final to go on a school tour to Barbados and in 2007 he made one of the highest scores in the competition with 163 not out against Cliftonville.

Professional Divan van Wyk has been in great form with both bat and ball and with the return of Andrew White from international duty it is on paper one of the best top orders in the NCU, but now it is time to deliver.


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