Classic showdowns in store in Challenge Cup

Waringstown are still without James Hall
Waringstown are still without James Hall

Saturday should be a day to saviour in the NCU.

Two Challenge Cup semi-finals, taking place little more than five minutes’ drive apart and both devilishly difficult to predict.

CIYMS, the cup favourites, entertain Waringstown at Belmont in a repeat of the Twenty20 Cup final of almost a fortnight ago, a game that was undoubtedly the highlight of the domestic season so far.

Meanwhile at Stormont, CSNI, the holders, have what could be a decisive home advantage against Instonians, the 2012 winners.

Many eyes will be on the Belmont tie but don’t underestimate the potential for drama at Stormont, a ground where Instonians have capitulated with the bat on their last two visits.

Andrew Cowden, the CSNI captain, admits his team are much more comfortable at Stormont than Shaw’s Bridge.

“It will suit us more than going to Shaw’s Bridge, we are happy to have home advantage,” he said.

“They are a quality side, they are Premier League champions and in my view they are still the favourites because of that. We are happy to be underdogs.”

Perhaps crucially, Cowden will be without Wayne Horwood, the attacking opening batsman who has given CSNI a new dimension at the top of the order where they struggled in the early weeks of the season.

The left-hander is in London on Saturday but flies from there to Dublin to take part in Sunday’s Irish Cup tie against Leinster.

Instonians meanwhile include Ben Rose, the 15-year-old coming into the side with Farhad Iqbal, the professional, ineligible.

Neil Russell points out that the clubs haven’t met since the close season departure of Nigel Jones, who was instrumental in CSNI’s recent successes against his team.

“From our perspective going into any cup match without your professional is a big blow to take,” said Russell.

“The statistics don’t lie, they have had a good record against Instonians at Stormont over the last few years. I think it’s a really finely poised semi-final.

“Nigel Jones is a big hole out of their team. He was a massive influence in the wins they picked up against Instonians and we have not played them without Jonesey there.”

Russell believes Iqbal should have been eligible for the competition, but the NCU rejected the club’s appeal.

“Some people say it’s the right decision but some might think it’s unfair,” he added.

“Imad (Wasim) was due to arrive at the end of May but then he got called up by Pakistan. How could Instonians have registered another professional when they didn’t know they needed a new one?”

With a professional in the team the smart money would be on Instonians, but this tie looks too close to call.

One thing is certain, CI will need to produce something better than their stuttering win over North Down last week if they have to reach their first Challenge Cup final since 2010.

Nathan Burns dug them out of trouble but it is doubtful Waringstown will be as generous tomorrow.

The villagers are again without the firepower of James Hall but CI will be concerned about the torn muscle in Johnny Thompson’s right arm.

The all-rounder will need an injection to be able to bowl and without him their cutting edge is blunted.

Rassie van der Dussen is key.

If the South African professional fires CI will be almost impossible to stop. If not, Waringstown will probably reach their third successive final.