Civil Service North booked a Ulster Bank Challenge Cup semi-final against Instonians this Saturday after winning a rain-affected tie with Muckamore last night.
The cup holders dominated their Section One opponents from the start in a match that was spoiled by frequent rain interruptions.
The final victory margin was 76 runs as Muckamore, strong favourites to return to the top flight next season, rarely got into a contest which underlined the gap between the top flight and the second tier.
Wayne Horwood, the veteran left-hander, got the home side off to a flier, hitting 10 fours in a typically pugnacious 57 from just 51 balls.
Andrew Cowden, the CSNI captain, was the rock at the other end, allowing the CSNI stroke-makers to flourish. Mansoor Amjad, the Pakistan professional, made his 53 off exactly 53 balls, including eight fours.
CSNI seemed poised for a total around 300 but rain interrupted the flow of their innings as wickets fell in the closing stages. The innings was eventually reduced to 41 overs with CSNI posting 229 for six. Cowden remained unbeaten on 82, having struck seven boundaries and faced 113 balls.
The target was increased to 240 in 38 overs and after more rain it became 235 in 37 overs.
But the run chase started disastrously as Avadoot Dandekar, the Muckamore professional, could only a pull a long-hop from John Costain into the hands of Regan West at mid-wicket. He had made just a single.
Jay Hunter followed to Costain (2-22) and by now everything depended on Ryan Haire. The former Ireland international added 49 for the third wicket with Craig Drummond (40) to take the score to 95 for two.
But when Regan West was introduced to the attack Haire took him on, lofting West’s first delivery into the hands of Christopher McMorran at long-on.
From 95 for two, Muckamore were soon 117 for seven as West (2-11) and Jason van der Merwe (3-22), bowling against his former team-mates, proved unlikely destroyers.
Jamie Magowan struck a defiant 38 down the order, but Muckamore were dismissed for 158 in 35 overs.
The result sets up an intriguing semi-final at Stormont on Saturday. CSNI and Instonians meetings have been well-contested in recent seasons, with the Stormont side winning the last two matches between the clubs at the international venue.
Cowden will fancy his chances, though one of his first tasks will be to persuade Horwood to play. The opener remains a dangerous presence at the top of the order but is due to attend a 40th birthday party in London at the weekend.
Instonians may be regarded as favourites but their new professional Farhad Iqbal, the Pakistani, is ineligible after not being registered in time for the Challenge Cup.
CIYMS, conquerors of North Down on Saturday, host Waringstown in the other semi-final. Both sides have their injury problems. Johnny Thompson has a torn arm muscle and has been told by medical staff to rest for five or six weeks. However, the all-rounder is expected to play through the pain barrier.
Chis Dougherty batted yesterday with a bandage to his hand, but again is expected to play in the semi-final.
Waringstown meanwhile are waiting on the fitness of James Hall, the opening batsman.
The Ireland international was advised to rest for up to six weeks because of a hamstring injury and missed both of Waringstown’s wins over the weekend.
Young guns Adam Dennison and James McCollum have formed a good partnership in his absence.