Instonians lose at North Down
Alistair Bushe (News Letter)
EUGENE Moleon admitted before a ball was bowled in anger this season that Instonians faced a huge task if they were to repeat their historic double-winning exploits of 2009.
He wasn’t wrong. Saturday’s 18-run defeat to North Down at The Green means that last year’s joint Premier League winners have a mountain to climb after losing two of their opening three league matches.
Fourteen victories was enough to earn a share of the title with Waringstown a year ago, but with the tally likely to be closer to 16 this time around, Instonians already have precious little margin for error in their remaining 15 matches.
When Moleon and his senior players sit down to analyse this defeat, they will likely point the finger of blame at their much-vaunted top five batsmen, with the honourable exception of John Stevenson.
The consensus at the halfway stage was that North Down’s total of 266 for eight, which was largely based around an explosive 92 from Ryan Haire, was nothing more than a par score on another fine Comber batting wicket.
But the old adage of ‘runs on the board’ could never have been more apt because irrespective of how good a pitch it is or how potent the batting line-up at your disposal, you still have to bat very well when you are chasing over 250.
Instonians didn’t necessarily bat badly, but they gifted North Down a wicket just about every time they needed one.
At 85 without loss in the 20th over, Stevenson and Rory McCann were making batting look increasingly easy, but in a sign of things to come, McCann inexplicably gifted Daniel Harding the first of his five wickets, when he hit the Australian to mid-off.
McCann was the first of three dismissals in the space of six overs that probably cost Instonians the match. Davey Jacobs, the South African professional, batted like he had a plane to catch before the return of the volcanic ash cloud, smashing Ryan Haire for one huge six over long-on, but he soon aimed an ugly heave across the line at Harding and was bowled.
Andrew White was batting in the middle for the first time in more than a month, and he looked edgy, eventually presenting Harding with a third big scalp when he played too early to the medium pacer and was caught and bowled..
Stevenson and James Shannon provided the second real partnership of substance, 81 for the fourth wicket, but despite some sumptuous boundaries from Shannon, they gradually fell behind the required rate. They only reached 200 in the 42nd over and Harding, who else, claimed the game’s decisive wicket as Shannon (44) hit disappointingly to mid-wicket.
Stevenson’s brave vigil ended soon after, he was lbw sweeping Marty Moreland 11 runs short of a century after striking six fours and a six, and there was too much for the lower order to do as they closed on 248 for nine.
The crucial difference between the teams was that while only Stevenson went on to a big score for Inst, North Down had two major contributors in Ryan Haire and Taimur Khan.
For the second home match in succession, the pair added a century partnership for the third wicket, with Haire in particular a delight to watch after a conservative beginning.
After a bright start from Neil Russell (33), North Down had gone rather into their shell against some impressive spin bowling from White (3-42) and Akshay Dhareula (1-28), and with the home side only 81 for two after 25 overs, Instonians had every reason to be content.
However, when the inevitable onslaught came from Haire, they had no answer. The left-hander specifically targeted the visitors’ fifth bowler and the 10 overs shared between Jack Blakiston-Houston, Shannon, Rory McCurry and Rory Sheard went for 84 runs, as North Down doubled their score between the 25th and 35th overs.
Haire was at his most merciless, relegating Taimur to a mostly watching brief at the other end as he smashed seven fours and seven mostly straight sixes and he was chanceless until he holed out at long-on off Jacobs eight runs short of a richly deserved century.
Taimur was relatively becalmed by his standards while Haire was at the crease but he grasped the initiative on the Ireland international’s departure, with his unbeaten 76 absolutely crucial in the final analysis.
After successive defeats to Waringstown and Pembroke, North Down desperately needed this victory, otherwise it have been them sitting uncomfortably with two defeats from three league games. Instonians are far from out of this title race, but they can ill-afford too many more days like this.