No celebrations for Lisburn

That's Darren Stevens there batting for Lisburn against North Down on Saturday
That's Darren Stevens there batting for Lisburn against North Down on Saturday

Muckamore Captain Neil Gill celebrated his 33rd birthday in style after helping his side to a vital six-wicket victory over Lisburn at Moylena on Sunday.

With both teams fighting for survival at the bottom of the Robinson Services Premier League, Lisburn knew that a win would all but seal their place in the top-flight for another season while Muckamore had to pick up four points to have any real hope of staying up.

Lisburn brought in Darren Stevens as a replacement professional following the departure of Faiz Fazal, who is playing First Class cricket back in his native India.

43-year-old Stevens is a veteran campaigner who has picked up 498 First Class wickets and scored over 15000 runs in 300 matches for the likes of Leicestershire, Kent and Derbyshire, and was fresh off dismissing Sir Alastair Cook for Kent in a County Championship match on August 18.

Despite taking three wickets against North Down on Saturday, it wasn’t enough to help Lisburn collect a vital win and it would be a similar misfortune for the

Wallace Park outfit against Muckamore.

Batting first on a green wicket, Lisburn scored 95/9 from their 20 overs with Gerry Strydom (32) holding their innings together as Pavan Karthik (3-13) and

Steve Lazars (3-17) performed admirably with the ball.

David Miller (52) came flying out of the traps as Muckamore went in pursuit of 96 and raced to his half-century from 36 balls, including three massive sixes and

five fours.

It was a superb innings in such a big game from Miller, who was able to look fluent and comfortable on a wicket in which so many were uneasy and struggled.

The home side had reached 67 before Jamie Rogers (13) was their first wicket to fall and when Fahad Iqbal, Miller and Aditya Adey were all dismissed within the

span of 13 runs, there would have been some nerves in the Muckamore camp.

Gill (7*) and Sam Gordon (7*) eased their side to an important four points with 3.4 overs to spare and the result has opened the relegation battle right up.

Muckamore and Lisburn are now level on 12 points while Instonians, who still have six matches left to play, sit bottom on eight points.

Lisburn have only one match left to play, which will take place on Friday against CIYMS, while Muckamore have the luxury of three more matches in which they

may need to win only one to stay up.

“It’s absolutely massive,” said Gill. “We have three matches left and two of them are at home, so that’s a big plus for us.

“If Lisburn had won they would have went to four wins and that would be an uphlll task.

“We would have had to win our last three matches which would have been a big ask. I’m absolutely ecstatic and the boys were brilliant.

“Our fielding was scrappy and everything was scrappy. Everyone was nervous today because we are desperate to keep the club in the league.”

Miller went past 400 runs for the season with his half-century and Gill revealed he instructed him to go out and be positive.

“It was the type of wicket where if it was full your only real scoring shot was hitting through the line,” he added.

“The ropes were in with the outfield and I told him to play his game and smash the ball if it’s up. There are days where he won’t come off but he came off today and got himself a quick fifty. The only downer on it was that we lost four wickets. If we had won by eight or nine wickets it would have really boosted our run-

rate.

“I don’t know how that will affect it but I would have taken that result!”

One team that will certainly be in the Premier League next season is Woodvale who sealed the Robinson Services Section One title on Sunday with a 150–run

victory over Cregagh at Ballygomartin Road.

Batting first, Woodvale posted 242/8 in 50 overs with Wayne Horwood (78) and Stephen Bunting (54) both scoring half-centuries.

Bunting, who has helped Woodvale gain promotion in his first season back from Instonians, also picked up four wickets as Cregagh were dismissed for 92.

They have comfortably been the most impressive and consistent performers in Section One throughout the 2019 campaign, winning 13 of their 17 matches to

date.

The sight of Ruhan Pretorius producing match-winning performances in the Northern Cricket Union is one that local fans are set to enjoy for years to come with the South African due to stay in Northern Ireland on a full-time basis.

Pretorius first came to play in the NCU back in 2015 with Waringstown before joining North Down in 2017, where he is currently in his third season.

The 28-year-old was in fine form once again on Saturday as he struck 56* from 55 deliveries in North Down’s 97-run win over Lisburn at Comber.

He would become eligible to play for Ireland in 2021, and if he can continue performing in a similar vein which saw him hit 96 for the Northern Knights last

Monday, you couldn’t put the possibility of international honours beyond him.

“I got my visa sorted so hopefully the winter won’t be too cold!” he said. “I’m excited about what the future holds for myself and my career going forward.”

Pretorius has been in exceptional form for the Comber side this season, scoring 789 runs at an average in excess of 56 in addition to 28 wickets over 18 matches.

That form has continued into his brief stint with the Knights and the Inter-Provincial experience is one that Pretorius is enjoying.

“It’s been brilliant,” he added. “The boys have been very welcoming and it’s been really enjoyable. I’ve played under Jonty (Simon Johnston) as a coach at Waringstown so it’s been fun to play under him again. It’s a good standard and it’s exactly where I want to be playing.”

Pretorius is set to average over 50 for the fourth consecutive season and if he can keep performing for North Down’s last three league games, they could have the

chance to lift their first title since 2011.

Alistair Shields’ men currently trail league leaders and defending champions CIYMS on net run-rate and although they have played two more matches than

their Belmont counterparts, the two will meet next Sunday in a rearranged Twenty20 clash.

Wherever the title ends up, this season has been a massive improvement on the 2018 campaign for North Down, who finished sixth 12 months ago and 32 points

off top spot.

“We have played some good red ball cricket but it’s sad we haven’t done the same thing in the white ball competitions,” said Pretorius.

“We have done well this year with the likes of Peter Eakin, Ally Shields and Ryan Haire sticking their hands up with the bat.

“Hopefully we can find one or two more guys to compete next year and really become a dangerous team.”

No other Robinson Services Premier League matches were played on Saturday with Carrickfergus vs Muckamore, Waringstown vs CIYMS and CSNI vs Instonians all cancelled.