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The Robinson Services Premier League returned in style on Saturday afternoon with three centuries and two five-wicket hauls being recorded across the five matches.
Perhaps the most impressive performance came from Lisburn, who shocked CIYMS at Belmont to run out victors by nine wickets. New captain Callum Atkinson elected to bowl after winning the toss and would have been happy with the start his side made as David Simpson (3-37) dismissed both John Matchett (17) and CI's new addition Ross Adair (39) to leave the home side sitting on 58-2. That's when Chris Dougherty (41) – now batting at number three – was joined by Irish international Mark Adair (55), and the pair put on a third-wicket partnership of 93 before the former was trapped lbw by Simpson. Adair fell shortly after as Neil Whitworth picked up his first Premier League wicket and impressive bowling from Mark Berry (3-21) helped limit any damage the talented CI middle order could cause, reducing them to 217-7.
Although only the first game of the season and a long summer ahead, Lisburn's opening partnership will take some beating as overseas professional Faiz Fazal (109*) and Jonny Waite (79) put on a stand worth 204 to help their side ease to victory. Fazal – an Indian international – has been one of the standout performers throughout his time in the NCU and started this campaign in supreme fashion, striking nine fours and five sixes during his 120-ball stay at the crease. He was ably-supported by Waite – who also struck 12 boundaries – and although he was dismissed by James Cameron-Dow, Whitworth joined Fazal to seal an astonishing triumph with 11 overs to spare.
At The Lawn, reigning champions Waringstown kicked their defence off with a five-wicket victory over Woodvale with new overseas professional Jamie Gibson (pictured right) wasting no time in introducing himself to the home faithful. The New Zealander picked up five of the first six wickets to fall, including the crucial scalp of his counterpart Ruhan Pretorius (25), to leave the visitors struggling at 87-6. It was never going to be easy to recover from such a position, but debutant Ronan Restieaux (42) and Paul Robinson (27) put in a spirited display before Gibson (6-23) returned to pick up another as Woodvale ended on 177.
The Ballygomartin Road side made a bright start as Pretorius bowled Lee Nelson, but Adam Dennison (32) and James McCollum (43) ensured there would be no further early damage by putting on 68 for the second-wicket. Gibson capped an all-round performance by contributing 39 to secure a five-wicket victory alongside Graham Hume (29*) as Waringstown set an early example of why they will likely be challenging at the top once again.
Another team that will have their sights set on silverware is North Down and they kicked off with a comfortable 10-wicket win over newcomers Cliftonville Academy. The home side were in immediate trouble as pacer Tom Mayes (4-52) struck twice before a run had been scored but a determined 57-run partnership between Senuran Muthusamy – who has two South African Test caps – and O'Leary (41) helped push their side up to 121-4. Ben Kane (21) and Andrew Forbes put on a defiant stand of 32 for the final wicket, but their total of 177 was never going to be enough, especially with a certain Paul Stirling in the opposition ranks.
Stirling (113*) – playing against his former club – was in supreme form as he posted an unbeaten century, which included six fours and 11 trademark maximums to help seal victory inside 26 overs. Aniruddha Chore (53*) was named Cricket Ireland Club Male Player of the Year for his exploits last season and has started this campaign where he left the last one off.
Stirling could soon have a new opening partner at international level in Luke Georgeson, who hit a century of his own in CSNI's narrow eight-run win against Instonians. The 23-year-old recently signed a central contract with Cricket Ireland after impressing in his debut season with CSNI and the Northern Knights and was immediately amongst the runs at Stormont. Georgeson (106) was the anchor through most of the home side's innings, sharing partnerships with Andrew Cowden (34) and new skipper Stuart Thompson (30) before being caught off the bowling of James Hunter (5-30).
Hunter's cameo was a big reason as to why CSNI didn't amass more than the 200 they closed on, and his innings of 64* was also why the Shaw’s Bridge outfit almost pulled off victory. The all-rounder and captain Andrew White (34) put on 84 for the fifth-wicket after they had been reduced to 75-4. Hunter ultimately ran out of partners as Thompson (2-20) and Georgeson (3-43) held their nerve to get the job done.
Cregagh's return to top-flight action ended in defeat as they were bowled out for 91 by Carrickfergus at Middle Road. Dan Kearsley (3-25) had a debut to remember before CJ van der Walt (2-12), Jeremy Lawlor (2-15) Jacques Snyman (2-18) all chipped in.
The away side made a magnificent start to their defence of a small total as Ross Boultwood (2-26) picked up a wicket with the first ball of the innings, and when he bowled Snyman for 0 to help leave Carrick sitting on 11-3, they would have believed anything was possible. Lawlor (41*) and van der Walt (39*) quashed those dreams though with a composed partnership of 84 to get the home side over the line without any further drama.
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