Alistair Bushe: Why Carrick’s cup final win over CSNI was probably most thrilling club game ever staged in the NCU
There was an incredible moment, almost at the end of Carrickfergus’s blistering innings of 254-3 in Sunday’s Lagan Valley Steels T20 final, that you knew you were in the midst of a special cricketing afternoon.
Jeremy Lawlor launched a towering blow down the ground off CSNI’s Luke Georgeson It looked a six for all money only for Stuart Thompson, running around at long-on, to jump beyond the boundary and grab the ball in midair and throw it back in the same motion, somehow preventing another six.
It was a remarkable piece of fielding that would have been replayed time and again had it happened in the Indian Premier League, never mind at The Lawn in Waringstown, Co Down.
This was club cricket in Northern Ireland, but not as we knew it.
For those stationed inside the Roy Harrison pavilion where the final attritional afternoon of the England-New Zealand Test match was playing out painstakingly on the big screen, you had to pinch yourself that you were watching the same sport.
While Dominic Sibley was grinding his way to an unbeaten half century that occupied more than 200 deliveries at Lords, Jacques Synman, Georgeson, Lawlor and Ross Adair were producing a display of batsmanship that genuinely took the breath away.
Of course, followers of NCU cricket have come to expect this from Snyman, the South African professional with a talent so outrageous that he surely deserves a sustained opportunity in his country’s limited overs set-up. This was a man who knows how good he is and was happy to prove it to a sun-drenched big crowd.
But the biggest compliment you could pay Lawlor is that anyone arriving at The Lawn for the Welshman’s second-wicket partnership of 117 in 57 balls with Snyman could barely have distinguished between the two, such was the quality of their respective ball striking.
On as good a batting pitch that the Waringstown groundstaff can have ever produced, both men cleared the boundaries with stunning regularity. When Snyman finally went for 79 from 32 balls (six fours and seven sixes), CSNI might have expected some respite, might have hoped that they could have limited the damage to less than 220.
Incredibly it got worse for Gary Wilson’s side. The captain tore a hamstring in the field and then 112 runs were pummelled from the last eight overs (yes, that’s not a typo).
It’s not like CSNI fielded badly either. As well as Thompson’s heroics they were brilliant across the ground, missed opportunities were at a premium but Neil Rock and Lawlor adding 89 in six overs apparently ended the final as a contest.
Anything that Snyman and Lawlor could do, Adair and Georgeson vowed to do it better and incredibly, for a while they did, 94 coming from the first seven overs as the boundary-fest never let up.
Georgeson, a tall and upright left-hander from New Zealand, was elegant but powerful, while Adair underlined his burgeoning reputation as a fearsome hitter. Lawlor, who had inflicted so much punishment earlier, got a taste of his own medicine, going for 29 in his first over, with Alex Hagan and CJ van der Walt faring little better, their two overs going for a combined 36. Not surprisingly, neither were seen again with the ball.
It was left to that old stager, Ryan Eagleson, to wrestle back the initiative for Carrickfergus, just as their supporters started to genuinely fear that a first-ever top flight trophy was in jeopardy.
The former Ireland seamer turned slow bowler had Adair lbw, probably the game’s most decisive blow given the front loaded nature of the CSNI batting line-up. After Stuart Thompson at four, this was a tail longer than the ship’s rat.
Georgeson went down in a blaze of glory, he was just seven short of a richly deserved century when he eventually holed out.
From there, it all rather petered out, but although the final margin was 43 runs, it felt much, much closer.
While this was among the most remarkable cricket matches staged in the NCU, a word of warning. It doesn’t necessarily translate that our club game is in rude health. It’s a pleasure to have talents like Snyman, Georgeson and Lawlor in our game, but aside from Adair, there was no performance of note from an NCU raised cricketer in the prime of his career. Both these clubs, like so many others in the NCU, still need to focus on the long term, as well as the short.
That debate is probably for another day though. For now let’s just revel in what we just saw.
A cricket match for the ages. Probably the most thrilling game ever staged in this union.