CSNI set up a thrilling Challenge Cup final with Waringstown after a dominant 72-run win over last year’s runners-up, Instonians, at Shaw’s Bridge on Saturday.
With no clouds in the sky and a hard wicket underfoot, CSNI captain James Kennedy won the toss and elected to bat, with Kennedy himself replacing Andrew Cowden at the top of the order alongside Marc Ellison.
The pair got off to a fantastic start, Ellison opening the scoring with a towering six over square leg then following it up with two more in the first few overs, with three separate balls required within the first four overs.
They reached the 50 mark for no loss in the 11th over and set a platform for themselves to reach a total of near 300 on a wicket that was definitely favouring the batting side.
With Ellison on 27, he attempted to pull a Shane Getkate bouncer for another maximum but the ball deflected off his helmet and looped in the air, with wicketkeeper James Metcalfe making no mistake.
Kennedy was looking in great touch and hit three consecutive fours off Getkate’s final over before the first drinks - bringing him to 41 - but he failed to push on after the interval, bowled by Instonians captain Andrew White.
Irish Twenty20 captain Gary Wilson walked in at four and brought up the team’s 100 in the 22nd over, scoring very quickly alongside Andre Malan.
Trying to up the run-rate further, Malan dragged on a ball from Robert McKinley and was dismissed for 34 and Wilson followed soon after as he was caught and bowled by Getkate for 37, leaving CSNI 166-4 after 31 overs.
Aaron Wright picked up where the pair left off and played beautifully for his 47 before being caught by James Hunter in the deep, becoming one of four James Magee victims.
The Stormont side had reached 247-6 when Wright was dismissed, with the likes of Chris McMorran and Corin Goodall adding late runs to drag CSNI up to 278.
James Shannon, who scored 60 for Ireland against India on Wednesday, opened alongside Oliver Metcalfe, but their run chase got off to the worst possible start when the latter tried to pull a Malan bouncer and was caught by wicketkeeper Goodall.
The combination of Malan and Goodall struck with the very next ball as Hunter edged behind, leaving Instonians 1-2 after one over.
Their chase never really got going and when Getkate was bowled by Graeme McCarter, the home side were 3-3 and in serious trouble.
The big wicket of Shannon fell soon after when he attacked a wide McCarter ball, only for Wilson to take a fantastic leaping catch at gully and it felt like the game was over at that point, with the score 6-4.
White was the only one of the top order that batted with any real quality, reaching his half-century in the 22nd over, but was caught off the bowling of Morgan Topping for 59 soon after.
Stephen Bunting and McKinley provided some resistance and, with both in the 30s, Instonians would have been dreaming of pulling off the impossible with the required rate around the 10 mark in the last 10 overs.
Matthew Foster made the crucial breakthrough when McKinley was caught for 35 - and with that dismissal the game was all but over.
Instonians were eventually bowled out for 206 in the 45th over, and a lot of credit must be given to the lower order, who did well to give Instonians respectability at the end.
Malan was awarded the ‘man-of-the-match’ honour for his 34 and three game-changing wickets, continuing his fantastic form of late.
CSNI have been brilliant in white ball cricket this season, losing only one game so far, with that coming in a Twenty20 loss to Waringstown, and they will be hoping they can pull off one more all-round performance and lift the Challenge Cup on July 27.