They might be struggling to retain their NCU Premier League title and have missed out on the Challenge Cup, but Instonians remain in buoyant mood ahead of Sunday’s O’Neill’s Ulster Cup final against North Down.
That’s according to all-rounder Nikolai Smith, who is standing in on most of the captaincy duties while Neil Russell is working in England.
Inst are probably underdogs on Sunday, with North Down enjoying home advantage and in the middle of a fine unbeaten run in the league.
Inst’s title hopes suffered a major blow against CIYMS last Saturday and the Ulster Cup probably represents their best chance of silverware this season.
However, Smith says going to The Green holds no fears for the Inst players.
“We are happy going to North Down. It’s a nice ground to play at, the wickets are good to bat on there, and although we slipped up there in the league earlier this season, we beat them in the Twenty20 Cup, and won there in the league last season. It’s a ground we enjoy playing at.”
Smith admits that many people have been taken aback by North Down’s form this season but he identified the fighting spirit as a key quality in Marty Moreland’s side.
“They will always fight no matter what the score is,” said Smith. “They have a real never-say-die attitude. Pieter Malan is a big player for them but he hasn’t got many runs against us so far this season and hopefully we can continue that trend.”
Given the unpredictable nature of the title race, Smith points out that Inst are far from out of it. They have lost three matches, along with CIYMS, while North Down and Waringstown have each been twice.
Smith says there could yet be a late twist. “We haven’t had a great season so far, but we could win the Ulster Cup on Sunday and if we play well between now and the end of the season in the league, and other results go our way, we could still win the league.”
Both sides are expected to be at full strength for the final. North Down will name the same 11 that faces Waringstown on Saturday while Russell, who is unavailable for Saturday’s league fixture, is back in Northern Ireland on Sunday.
Almost inevitably with the Ulster Cup, a competition seemingly cursed by bad weather, the forecast for Sunday is apocalyptic. Last night the organisers had agreed with Cricket Ireland that a bowl-out should be avoided in the event of a washout. They were trying to agree a reserve date with the two finalists should one be needed.
In the Premier League it’s the business end of the season at the bottom where Ballymena, Carrickfergus and Lisburn are fighting for their lives at the bottom. Of the three teams, Lisburn’s plight is the least serious with three victories to their name. A home game against CSNI, opposition they thrashed by 10 wickets just a fortnight ago, represents an excellent opportunity for David Simpson’s men to mathematically secure their top-flight status.
Ballymena, without a victory in any competition since the first Saturday in July, face another tall order as they travel to play CIYMS at Belmont. At least Rassie van der Dussen, the CI professional, has returned home after plundering more than 1,000 runs.
Carrickfergus meanwhile, who are level on eight points with Ballymena, host Instonians at Middle Road. They defeated the Premier League champions in a Twenty20 Cup tie earlier in the season and ran them close in the league at Shaw’s Bridge.
There is one Premier League game scheduled for Sunday with Lisburn due to face Waringstown at Wallace Park. If it is washed out it can be replayed in a 20-over format.