The past week saw the opening three games of the Irish domestic 50-over competition. Each team now has at least one match under their belt, and we have a clearer idea of how the numerous player transfers will impact the season going forward.
Match 1: Leinster Lightning vs North-West Warriors
The Lightning went into this opening game on the back of the news that Andrew Balbirnie, Josh Little and Rory Anders would be unavailable for selection. Combined with losing several players to the pre-season squad re-shuffling, were Leinster going to be ripe for the taking?
The Warriors started slowly and struggled to find any acceleration for the majority of their innings. Former Leinster man Stephen Doheny began strongly for his new team, hitting 29 from 22 balls, before falling to an unplayable delivery from McCarthy. Doheny would be the only member of the Warriors top six to score at a strike rate above 67, and it would prove to cost the North-West as they could only manage to post a score of 204.
Barry McCarthy was the pick of the Leinster bowlers, delivering consistently dangerous deliveries that earned him four wickets.
Leinster began their chase losing Kevin O’Brien early on, which brought Jamie Grassi to the crease with the score at just 15. Grassi was not in the original 12-man squad, and only called up due to Balbirnie being in quarantine. His last Interpro appearance was a T20 in 2018 and his only List A start to date saw him out for a second ball duck. Grassi would have been forgiven for feeling the pressure, but he delivered a mature innings, bringing up his fifty in style by slog-sweeping Boyd Rankin for 6. When he finally fell on 82, it was clear to see why Ed Joyce has tipped the 22-year-old as one to watch for the future.
Grassi shared a 106-run partnership with captain Dockrell, who continued his mission to convert to an all-rounder, adding to his two wickets with a well worked unbeaten 50 (in what would turn out to be his less impressive innings of the week).
In the end, the Lightning chased the target comfortably with 15 balls to spare.
|North-West Warriors||204 (48.5/50)||Leinster Lightning||207/4 (47.3/50)|
|Graham Hume||44*||Jamie Grassi||82|
|Barry McCarthy||4/32||Graham Hume||2/39|
|Leinster won by 6 wickets|
Match 2: Leinster Lightning vs Northern Knights
The Knights were tipped as the side most likely to end Leinster’s reign of terror this season, and their early bowling seemed to suggest they were up to the task. Graeme McCarter was a particular highlight, charging through all ten of his overs without a break, ending with four maidens and deserving more than the two wickets he claimed. His second scalp was particularly crucial, dismissing Kevin O’Brien on 37, who had seemed set and ready to put up a big score.
The turning point was a 104 run partnership from George Dockrell and Simi Singh. Dockrell was once again exceptional with the bat, building his way carefully to a 63-ball 50, before accelerating at breakneck pace. Going into the final over on 81, it seemed he may have left his charge too late. A six, a single and two balls faced by McCarthy left the Lightning skipper needing 12 from the last 2 balls, and he duly delivered – bringing up his maiden List A Century driving a wide delivery past the reach of deep mid-off, then sweeping a Pretorius full-toss sailing over the boundary.
In all, it took just 21 balls for him to go from 50 to 100 runs, and now questions are being asked if Dockrell can earn an Ireland recall on his batting alone. If his Interpro form continues in this vein, he will be extremely hard to say no to.
Stirling started the Knights response making everything look easy, before falling early to an excellent delivery by Peter Chase. Chase would end up with three wickets in a determined display – another player making a strong case for an international recall.
In the end, the loss of McCollum from the Knight’s batting line up (due to an injury in the field) made a tough chase even tougher, and the ten remaining batsmen could not get close to the Leinster target, despite good innings from Lawlor, Georgeson and Adair.
The Knights will feel hard done by here and will be out for revenge in the reverse fixture.
|Leinster Lightning||251/6 (50 overs)||Northern Knights||163 (38.1/42)|
|George Dockrell||100*||Luke Georgeson||46|
|Graeme McCarter||2/27||Peter Chase||3/37|
|Leinster won by 70 Runs (D/L)|
Match 3: North-West Warriors v Munster Reds
The third match moved the action to Eglinton Cricket Club and saw the 50-over debut (or 43-over debut due to rain) of the Munster Reds. The Reds were put into bat first and made a slow but steady start with a 62 run partnership between McLoughlin-Gavin and Commins, followed by an explosive 64 run partnership off just 50 balls between Commins and Campher. Solid contributions were also made by Kane and Ford, and the Reds were all set to post a formidable total, before their final 5 wickets fell for just 20 runs.
The pick of the Warriors bowlers were Ross Allen, Andy McBrine and Graham Hume, who kept the pressure on the new look Reds team with constant wickets at key moments. That makes two games in a row that Hume has been a standout performer, he certainly has the technique and cricketing brain to cause a lot of problems this season.
In the end experience beat youthful exuberance, as the North-West looked composed and comfortable as they chased down the Munster score with ease. All but one of the Warriors’ top 6 contributed scores of at least 32, as the Reds struggled to engineer the collapse they needed.
Despite the defeat, the talent in the Munster squad was clear as day, and once the squad is settled, they will certainly provide stiff competition for the other teams. A first 50-over win seems just around the corner.
|Munster Reds||219 (42/43 overs)||North-West Warriors||220/5 (38.3/43)|
|Murray Commins||61||Stuart Thompson||42|
|Ross Allen||3/40||Josh Manley||1/23|
|Warriors won by 5 wickets|
A quarter of the way through the season Leinster Lightning still look difficult to beat. When their side is strengthened for the rest of the season by the return of Ireland captain Balbirnie and the dangerous left arm pace of Josh Little, it will be hard to see anyone stopping them.
While Cricket Ireland’s player shake up this year seems to have not done enough to stop the Lightning running away with yet another title, it is achieving its aim of increased exposure for more players. Jamie Grassi would have been unlikely to feature at all if Leinster could still rely on players such as Gareth Delany, Curtis Campher and Stephen Doheny, but he rose to the occasion, scoring 116 runs across the two Lightning games. Players previously limited to rare Interpro cameos, such as Commins and McLoughlin-Gavin, now have the chance to be key players for their team.
Plaudits should also be given to the HBV studios and the commentary team assembled. The quality of the broadcast of each game was excellent, and the viewing number being reported are richly deserved. Action resumes on the 16thof May when the Knights welcome the Lightning to Comber.
*LL earned a bonus point against NK (LL run rate over 1.25 times the NK run rate)
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