North Down-Instonians fixtures have probably become the spiciest games in the NCU Premier League and Saturday’s tussle at The Green will have more riding on it than most.
A dreadful weather forecast threatens the entire cricket programme on Saturday but if a weather bullet is avoided, it’s a game Instonians captain Neil Russell says neither can afford to lose.
Inst, after losing both their opening league fixtures before bouncing back with a victory over Muckamore, stand to lose more than their opponents if they were to slide to a record of one win in four matches.
North Down too won’t want a second league defeat, especially with Waringstown and CIYMS having winnable fixtures against Ballymena and Muckamore respectively.
Russell said: “We had a slow start but over the last two or three games we have started to click into gear. The boys are looking forward to playing at The Green, the pitches are flat and we would back our batting order to get a good total on the board should we bat first.
“We are behind the eight-ball having lost our first two matches though and from our perspective especially it’s a game we can’t afford to lose.”
Russell has tinkered with the Instonians batting order in line with what he calls his positive approach to cricket. Andrew White, the Ireland all-rounder, has been promoted to open alongside the captain and professional Imad Wasim, a revelation with both bat and ball so far, is at number three. With James Shannon at four, Russell knows the ‘top-heavy’ accusation will be levelled at Inst.
“Everyone knows I play my cricket in a positive manner and that’s the attitude I want the boys to have at all times,” said Russell. “Having spoken to Whitey, he feels that his best scoring days for Instonians came when he opened the batting. It is a bit of a catch-22 situation, if he nicked off early it’s a big lift to the opposition. But he is one of the best players in the NCU and if he feels he wants to go out and score big runs from the top of the order I’m more than happy with that.
“With Imad we saw him bat beautifully at five in the early games, and when you have a player of that quality you want him to face as many balls as possible.”
If Inst are to win, Russell admits his bowlers must find a way to limit a North Down batting order that has former captain Peter Shields as low as number nine.
“When Peter comes in at nine it shows you the depth they have,” Russell added. “Ryan (Haire) is the most destructive batsman in the NCU and James Cameron-Dow is their biggest threat with the ball.”