Shannon leads Instonians to cup glory
BY ALISTAIR BUSHE AT THE GREEN
James Shannon might have failed by just a matter of feet to reach a richly-deserved century at The Green yesterday but no-one could dispute that his unbeaten 99 from 93 balls was not one of the great NCU Challenge Cup final innings.
The 21-year-old Instonians batsman finished agonisingly one run short of three figures as he tried to win the match with a six, but it hardly took the gloss off a stunning eight-wicket triumph over favourites North Down.
When Shannon pulled the winning boundary through the on-side off Gayan Wijekoon, Instonians had completed the formalities of their third Challenge Cup success, and a second in four years, with 14 overs and one ball remaining. It was victory all the more remarkable because they were playing without an overseas professional.
It was a thrashing in anyone’s language as the unbeaten 161-run partnership for the third wicket between Shannon and Andrew White made North Down’s total of 182 on their own ground look totally inadequate.
It didn’t appear that way early in the run chase. David Kennedy and Gavin McKenna, the North Down seamers, bowled well with the new ball as Instonians slumped to 23 for two.
John Stevenson continued a trend from the North Down innings of wickets falling to bad balls by hitting a full toss to short extra cover off McKenna and when Rory McCann guided the same bowler into the hands of slip in the ninth over, Inst were seemingly on the back foot.
If North Down had been able to prise open the Shannon and White partnership then, the 31-times cup winners would have been in the driving seat, but they simply never looked like doing so.
A pitch that appeared slow and sluggish at times during the first half of the match had long since flattened out, and in Shannon and White, Inst had two players truly at the top of their game.
North Down simply never had anywhere near enough runs to play with. The third-wicket stand was initially circumspect but by the time Shannon brought up his half-century, and the Instonians 100, in the 27th over with a towering six over wide long-on off Marty Moreland, this was a game going one way.
With the outcome by now not in doubt, the crowd were treated to a Shannon masterclass and in full flow there is no better batsman to watch in Ulster cricket. He unleashed a full array of shots, with a back-foot drive through extra-cover off Peter Eakin probably the best of the lot.
With White going well at the other end it was only a question of whether Shannon could reach his century before victory was achieved. He couldn’t quite manage as that attempt at a maximum fell agonisingly short it but every one of his 11 fours and five sixes was played with almost consummate ease. White, man-of-the-match on this ground in the 2009 final, was faultless, hitting seven boundaries in his 57 not out from 77 balls.
Earlier in the day it was scarcely believable that North Down, all out on this ground for 123 against Lisburn less than a week earlier, batted so abysmally again.
Eugene Moleon and Sam Shannon both bowled beautifully with the new ball as the host club started hesitantly. Moleon, who conceded just three runs in his five-over opening spell, captured the dangerous Neil Russell but it was Shannon, James’ younger brother, who claimed the most significant wicket of the match, a beauty taking Ryan Haire’s inside edge on its way through to the wicketkeeper Robbie Kirk.
North Down, without the security of long-time professional Taimur Khan in the middle order, are not the same team if Haire goes cheaply and from there a succession of batsmen tossed their wickets away, sometimes to poor deliveries.
At 117 for three in the 34th over they had a platform to launch for something approaching 250 but a superb diving catch from Rory McCurry at deep square leg to dismiss Wijekoon off Zach Rushe (2-41) swung the momentum back Inst’s way.
Opener Andrew Sutherland, who made 58 without ever breaking the shackles, followed two overs later, bowled attempting to cut a Rushe delivery that was too full and only captain Peter Shields (29) of the remaining North Down batsmen batted with any kind of fluency. Inst were relying on the part-time bowling of McCann and James Shannon (2-32) but the dismissal of Jonathan Terrett, caught off a long-hop at deep square leg, encapsulated their display with the bat.
Moleon richly deserved to get his hands on the biggest trophy in Ulster cricket and he will be hoping history repeats itself. The last time they won the Challenge Cup in 2009 Instonians went on to record a league and cup double. With a new professional Farooq Iqbal registered and eligible for the remainder of the league season, few would bet against them on this showing.