A team representing the Northern Ireland Association of Cricket Umpires and Scorers (NIACUS) made the trip to Malahide on Saturday 27th September, and returned to the province with the elusive White Stick trophy in its satchel for the first time in several years, after registering a narrow, but ultimately deserved, 6 run win over their Leinster counterparts (LCU&SA).
However, things had not started out so auspiciously in the quest to reclaim the White Stick, as a combination of late cry offs and not exactly textbook communication about the event led to confirmed numbers totalling a meagre 6 on the eve of the game. Hasty phone calls and texts raised this to 7 with the useful addition of qualified umpire Bruce Topping to the ranks, and our Leinster colleagues kindly agreed that if we made the trip, we could have a loan of 3 players and engage in a 10 per side affair. With the forecast set fair, we agreed to set forth under those far from ideal, yet acceptable, terms. Lessons learned for future events…….
A convivial (as always) welcome was received from our hosts and we met up with our on-loan teammates, Jeremy, Vinu and Derek (the last named being the sire of no less than a certain G Dockrell) and the opposition captain, Martin Bloch, very generously agreed to dispense with the formalities of a toss and mutual agreement was reached that NIACUS would have first hit.
Opening up for the visitors were Ronnie Balfour and Jonathan Kennedy, both fearsome openers in their day. Ronnie set his stall out early, his first scoring shot being a neatly timed six off this legs over deep square, and thereafter he was to be the mainstay of the NIACUS innings. Enjoying a mixture of well timed and well placed shots, he was content to ride his luck, but could only watch on as a clatter of early wickets paved the way for what could have turned into a very short day in the middle. JK was dismissed early, and he was followed back to the hutch by Dockrell senior, and then, to our dismay, Bruce Topping, who we had pinned our hopes on for posting a competitive target. When Kevin McConville also perished the scoreboard read a less than healthy 31-4 and there was a very real danger that embarrassment could result. Another of our lent men, Vinu, looked like he could turn things around, but he too was dismissed to a super catch on the boundary and at 50 odd for 5, the Leinster men were well and truly in the box seat.
However, two partnerships, both involving Ronnie, started to turn things around. First, he found a willing ally in the shape of Adam Gardner. Adam played very positively in a stand worth close to 40 and the visiting side crept towards 3 figures. He hit a number of sumptuous boundaries in a knock of 28 in quick time but just when it looked like he would transform the complexion of the game, he too fell. Ronnie was joined by the skipper (nominated 10 minutes before the match) Michael Foster, and another 40 run partnership ensued, one which saw Ronnie pass his half century. Michael at the other end largely reigned in his usual attacking game and a total of 160-170 looked on at one point, until Ronnie hit one into the covers and was called through for the run. In these types of fixtures you are usually reasonably well protected from the cover point fielder not swooping in at pace, picking up one handed and throwing down the stumps at the non-strikers end in the blink of an eye, but that was not to be the case on this occasion as an incredible piece of work from the Leinster man did for Ronnie for a vital 56 runs.
Ronnie’s departure was the catalyst for Michael to open his shoulders a little and a 6 and a couple of 4s ensued, but he too then was deceived by a slower ball and was bowled for 28. This left last men Jeremy and Dessie Milne to add a further 6 or 7 runs to take us up past 150 in our 35 overs. The quiet, shy and reserved Dessie, having his first ever bat in a game of cricket, and looking resplendent in his brand new whites and kit (well, brand new in the sense he had never worn them, having bought them for last year’s event only to end up umpiring – don’t get him started on that one) crashed a beautiful straight drive for 4 which he celebrated in typically low key style (think Ravindra Jadeja coupled with Sree Sreesanth, with a bit of Freddie Flintoff the time England beat India off the last over in a ODI and he whipped the shirt off, and you get the general idea) before he was caught behind to close our innings on 152. A reasonable effort, particularly given the start, but a tally which most observers, ourselves included, and given the obvious talent at Leinster’s disposal, was thought to be 20-30 shy of a winning total.
Such a prediction looked like being fairly accurate once the Leinster reply got under way. Despite holding back their “gun” batsmen Sameer Dutt, the home side got off to a more than useful start as the openers put on 50 for the first wicket, due to a mixture of hard hitting and an element of fortune. Adam Gardner and Michael Foster had opened without success or much luck, before Vinu and Ronnie Balfour had also toiled away. Vinu did make the breakthrough as he decided that his non-selection for his home union merited testing out the middle of the pitch with some regularity against his would-be teammates. Bruce Topping, more usually associated with his exploits behind the sticks, came on for what he later informed us was his first ever competitive bowl, and he did not look out of place at all. He bowled right through his 7 over spell, and did so very tightly, and he managed a fine return catch to get rid of the other opener. However, with Leinster having progressed to 100-3 with 12 overs left to get 50 odd runs, it was very much still theirs to lose.
The turning point in the game came with the re-introduction of Adam Gardner. With the two key men at the crease and looking to get in to their stride, NIACUS knew that wickets were essential if they were to hold any chance to secure an unlikely win. Adam managed to get one of these in his first comeback over, courtesy of a catch behind by Dessie, who, it must be said, kept a very good wicket. Very much in the mould of a good old fashioned keeper, he was energetic and busy, constantly geeing up his troops, and having the occasional word or 20 with batsmen, bowlers, fielders and umpires alike. With an “end” open, the pressure started to heap on the shoulders of the NIACUS nemesis, Sameer, but he looked comfortable and was in the process of steering his side to the win when the key moment of the game arrived. In Adam’s last over, and with 20 odd required, he miscued a lofted drive which sailed towards deep mid wicket. The skipper made ground to his left, looked like getting in the perfect position to take the grab, until realising at the last moment that he maybe wasn’t quite in the right place, so stuck out the left paw and took it one-handed – nonchalant some said, more like lucky, and Sameer was gone and NIACUS had more than a sniff for the win.
There was still some work to be done however, and the skipper brought himself back on and in tandem with Jonathan Kennedy at the other end, the game went down to the wire. A couple of very tight overs for the visitors, coupled with a smattering of further wickets, took it down to the last over with 11 needed and skipper facing skipper. Or so the umpires and players thought until the scorer, Helen, intervened by suggesting that Michael had completed his spell. After discussion, it was realised that she had inadvertently mixed him up with another bowler earlier in the game. One might imagine it would be hard to confuse Michael (6ft 3ins, hasn’t seen 15 stone for quite a few seasons), particularly with the bowler she had him down for (Vinu, about 5ft 4, slightly different complexion), but there was a deal of humour surrounding the error, and play was allowed to continue.
On this occasion, Leinster found that they had left themselves with just too much to do, and ultimately the last over could only produce 4 more runs, and the victory was secured by the slender margin of 6 runs.
So a very fine day’s cricket concluded with NIACUS the winners of the trophy for the first time since 2009. A superb meal was provided for the players and the umpires presented the MOM award to Bruce for his economical spell, and the champagne moment to Paul for his superb catch on the boundary (not to mention his run out). The White Stick Trophy was presented to victorious captain Michael and the participants retired to the Malahide CC bar for a few more refreshments before making their way back up the road. We look forward to having the chance to defend the trophy in 2015 back on home soil where hopefully a few more colleagues will make themselves available to play in what is a great game to be involved with, played in the true spirit of cricket.
Northern Ireland Association of Cricket Umpires and Scorers (NIACUS)
Leinster Cricket Umpires & Scorers Association (LCU&SA)