Andrew Cowden has long been regarded as the chief blocker in the NCU so there more than a hint of irony as he plundered the winning runs that took Civil Service North to Challenge Cup final success on Friday.
The opening batsman hit an unbeaten 45 as the Stormont club beat Waringstown by five wickets on Duckworth-Lewis at Comber with one ball to spare.
CSNI had looked to be on the brink of defeat just minutes earlier as they trailed by eight runs on DL when the rain arrived in the 35th over of their run chase. At 87 for four chasing Waringstown’s disappointing 156, the game was in the balance with the villagers slight favourites because of the uneven and inconsistent nature of the pitch.
Initially, it looked like the rain interruption would seal a second successive cup final victory for Waringstown because if play had not resumed by 6.15pm, Lee Nelson’s team were winners.
That would have been a wholly unsatisfactory situation but the rain stopped just in time and in fact it played into the hands of the chasing side as CSNI were handed the equation of 22 from 14 balls. What’s more, none of Shaheen Khan, Gary Kidd and Kyle McCallan, Waringstown’s premier bowlers, were able to complete their spells, so the villagers effectively had one hand tied behind their back.
With Nigel Jones, the captain, and Cowden at the crease it should have been comfortable but instead Jones was caught and bowled by James Hall in the penultimate over.
However, when Cowden came down the track the next ball his thick outside edge ran down to third man for four. With a leg bye scrambled from the final delivery, CSNI required 10 from the last over from Phil Eaglestone and Christopher McMorran’s boundary from the secondary delivery made the equation an awful lot easier. Cowden struck successive twos to seal arguably the finest individual moment of his career.
Captain Jones poured praised on his under-rated batsman. He said: “He sometimes gets flack for batting too slow buy today to come out there needing 22 off 2.2 people may not have backed him making a contribution towards that, but he pulled it out. He got his bit between the teeth and decided he would do whatever it takes. There were great contributions from others, including Regan West. To get 10 overs out of him for 25 runs was massive, Allen Coulter, you can’t look past for three wickets for 20 odd.”
Waringstown will rue the weather’s intervention but they probably lost this game with a shoddy batting display on a pitch that admittedly was difficult to bat on throughout. CSNI bowled superbly with the villagers on the back foot from the moment James Hall was caught at cover off Coulter (3-25) in the opening cover of the match. The turning points were the suicidal run outs of Nelson and David Dawson, the latter after a mix-up with Shaheen Khan (36) when 180 was well within reach.
A total of 156 shouldn’t have been enough but when CSNI were reduced to 67 for four in reply, they were deep in trouble.
Jones added: “150 was probably a bit better than we thought as a score initially. But to get over the line against Waringstown in two close matches in 2008 and then today is pretty sweet. Having Waringstown three times in finals and beating them twice is very satisfying for the lads. It’s fantastic that we already have two cups in the bag this season.”