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NIACUS Secure The White Stick With Record-Breaking Triumph

Michael Foster

When Malvolio, the main antagonist in the Shakespeare comedy "Twelfth Night" read the words "Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them" he could well have been thinking far into the future about a group of 11 men who gathered at the top pitch at the Green, Comber on a soggy Saturday in mid September. Whilst the greatness may well indeed have been thrust upon them, history will reflect that the NIACUS White Stick team of 2017 recorded the largest margin of victory (in terms of runs) in the proud history of the competition, as they put their Leinster counterparts to the sword.

The day started well for the visitors as opposition skipper Paul "Renno" Reynolds won the toss and elected to have a bowl. With a current Irish international wicket keeper in their ranks, the first comment of the day was heard to ring out "What's he doing with the pads on?" as the skipper himself donned the gloves and dispatched Mary Waldron, said international, to sweep on the cover boundary. To be fair, Renno was a keeper of some standing back in the day and apparently Mary was happy enough, so we cracked on with the match despite the drizzle beginning to come steadily down.

The opening attack of Messrs Clarke and Stapleton were soon into a good rhythm and the opening batsmen of Neiller and birthday boy Ronnie Balfour (he was being a shade recalcitrant about revealing the exact number) had to bide their time and wait for the occasional scoring opportunity. Ronnie, a model of consistency in these matches, had a rare failure (8) finding the safe hands of Mary at cover, a dismissal that was to be repeated by Neiller soon after. In the interim, the Chairman, J Kennedy esq, came and went for a tidy 12 and when Neiller did depart (17) the game was finely balanced at 49/3 (14).

I arrived at the crease to some gentle banter from a few of the chaps, all good fun, and proceeded to see it like a golf ball, certainly for about 20 runs or so. Thankfully Aaron Johnston at the other end was in much better nick and I was able to watch him accumulate while I struggled. A couple of let offs – maybe an international keeper would have held on to the difficult caught behind off Raj….. – helped, and riding my luck with Aaron batting sublimely to take the bad look off things, we managed to put on 141 in the next 13 overs and we ended up with a decent looking 214/4 in our 30. For the record I managed 72 – as the Honorary Secretary rather directly pointed out in the after dinner speeches, significantly improving my average in the competition – and Aaron retired a couple of overs before the close with a stylish 68.

After a quick turnaround the opening partnership of a classy, stylish wicket keeper and Renno strode to the crease to see what inroads they could make to the imposing total. Things didn't quite go to plan however. Mary faced a few balls playing a couple of decent looking shots until a drive to backward point saw her skipper call her through for a run that wasn't there. The conversation went something along the lines of "Yes….No…Yes…..MARY…. Sorry Mary…. Don't worry Paul, you stay" as Renno disappeared even further down Mary's Christmas card list for 2017.

Unfortunately (for Leinster anyway) things didn't get much better for the visitors. In the next over Adam Gardner cleaned up Niall Walsh and the very next ball produced the game's champagne moment as young Crossan pushed at one, which flew to the Chairman at first slip who, with an almost equal cocktail of skill and aloofness which startled all of the participants bar himself, pouched the chance, a fine catch. Another catch at slip by yours truly off the said Chairman made it 7/4 and when Leinster's only possible chance of salvation, the skipper, decided that if he was going to run folk out he may as well do the same to himself and perished for a fluent 16, the game was up and attention turned to how quickly we could get into the bar.

We presumed this would be a fairly rapid progression, but we were to be proved wrong, as an innings of remarkable content ensured the match would proceed to its duration. The pre-cursor was a defiant 2 from Nigel Parnell which thwarted the NIACUS attack (I use the word attack in its loosest possible sense) but what was to follow from Steve Wood left all those who witnessed it awestruck or dumbstruck depending on one's perspective. In fairness, he arrived at the crease with two options available to him. One was to give it a crack, try to chase down the 9 an over required run rate, perhaps valiantly fail in his quest, but receive the plaudits for his brave attempt. The second option, and the path he choose, was to block the absolute crap out of it for 22.1 overs, frustrate the hell out of opponents and teammates alike, and write himself into the White Stick record books for lowest strike rate for anyone facing 74 balls in the history of the competition! Non-threatening delivery after non-threatening delivery from middle aged men (generous description) who haven't bowled in a very long time was met with the deadest of dead bats. Variations, including slower balls, even slower balls and "how did that delivery even reach him" balls, didn't faze Steve one bit. It is doubtful whether Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis at their pomp would have penetrated his stoic defence, for this was a day when Steve Wood of Gorey, Co Wexford just wasn't going to be shifted. Fair play Steve, fair play.

He did, however, risk running out of partners who weren't sharing his view of the match situation, and some useful bowling by Andy McCullough (6 overs 2 for 6) chipped away at the other end. Simon Burrowes also bowled a uniquely satisfying spell (4 overs for 10) which he attributed to practising his shadow bowling in the corridors of power at Parliament Buildings in the run up to the game (Arlene played all round one by all accounts). Adam Gardner with 2-15 (4), myself with 1-5 (5) and Neiller 0-12 (5) completed things on a day when the bowling figures were on to a good thing with Steve Boycott in full flow…

The innings finally closed after the full 30 (some of the Leinster wags claiming the draw) with the total on 55-9 (Wood 17* - he ruined what could have been an even more impressive dig in with a couple of late 4s) to leave NIACUS the victors by 159 runs.

Everyone repaired to the bar and then upstairs for a fine meal at which trophy presentations, speeches (including the gratitudes to North Down CC, caterers, umpires and scorers) and the mandatory ribbing of Dessie Milne were convivially enjoyed. In many respects the outcome of the match is and should remain secondary, as the chance to enjoy the company of our colleagues from Leinster takes centre stage. The White Stick is a tradition, one that hopefully will continue for many years, and as we bade farewell later that evening to our visitors, we were already looking forward to next year and the chance to defend the one and only, White Stick Trophy.

Photo courtesy of David Holmes