It was again Nikolai Smith that helped propel Instonians towards victory on Saturday as the Shaws Bridge side brought CIYMS’ unbeaten run to an end.
Smith, batting at number eight, came in with the score sitting at 82/6 but proceeded to smash 35* from 18 balls (one four, three sixes), putting on a partnership of 56 with James Hunter (22*) which got Instonians up to what turned out to be a winning total of 138/6.
The 27-year-old was also responsible for helping his side get over the line by three runs on the opening day of the season against Waringstown, scoring 58* that afternoon.
It has been a mixed season for Instonians with victories over CIYMS and Waringstown – two sides that have won the last five Twenty20 Cup’s between them combined with failing to chase 88 against CSNI while they were bowled out for 77 by North Down.
They will fancy their chances of going on a play-off run with the current top four teams now all out of the way and Smith will be key if they are to achieve that.
“The temptation all year has been to push him further up the order,” said captain Andrew White.
“I think he has understood and has been part of the planning in terms of making sure we maximise the opportunities for the younger players so that maybe in a year or two they are in a better place to perform more consistently.
“He has played his part in the victories that we have had and that’s been really encouraging from his point of view.”
Instonians are using this season as an opportunity to promote youth up the batting order with the likes of Jack Dickson getting a chance on Saturday while Oliver Metcalfe, Marcus Poskitt, Ben Rose and James Hunter also usually feature.
White didn’t even bat at the weekend, slotting himself in at nine and he says it’s about giving the younger crop the chance to put what they’ve learnt into action.
“Sometimes people say you’re better having the experience in the middle rather than on the sideline, but these guys are old enough,” he added.
“We have 7 players that are 20 or under and I still think the majority of the guys have played enough cricket now where they have to take responsibility and put what they’ve learnt over the past couple of years into action.
“Sometimes you leave it up to them to work it out and at times they’ve responded and others they will come to you saying they should have done this or that, and that’s all part of what we see this year being about.
“I certainly don’t want to be batting nine for the rest of my playing career but this year lends itself to giving others that opportunity.”
James Magee also played a crucial role in the 10-run victory, picking up figures of 3-21 from his four overs, with that burst helping bring CI from 96-3 to 115-7.
“He’s bowling well,” said White.
“He’s one of those guys that is probably under-rated – not by those at the club but around the circuit.
“He went through a difficult patch a couple of years ago but he has won a lot of games for us over the years.
“He’s somebody that I trust to throw the ball to, like all of the bowlers on Saturday.
“There was probably a period where the trust wasn’t there but that’s gained through performances and they are all performing with the ball.
“It’s pretty straightforward captaining in the field at the moment because of their ability to lead when they have the ball in their hand. That has been a big plus for this season.
“Of course anybody on their day can go around the park, but as long as they are clear on what they want to do it makes my job easier.”
There has been a change of wicketkeeper for Instonians this season with Olly Metcalfe taking over the gloves from brother James.
The 19-year-old has been looking to dedicate more time to a role that he carried out in youth cricket and White says he will be behind the stumps for the rest of the 2020 campaign.
“Olly always was a keeper coming up through the ranks and he feels he wants to dedicate more time to his wicket-keeping,” he added.
“James, his brother, is very supportive of him in doing that and they’ve shared the duties a bit at the start of the season but Olly will probably see the season out as our first choice wicketkeeper.
“James is still an integral part of the squad. It’s offering that opportunity to one of the guys who will hopefully be at Instonians for a long, long time.”
White is also Chair of National Men’s Selectors at Cricket Ireland and he watched on with delight as Ireland recorded a famous seven-wicket victory over England last Tuesday in Southampton.
“It was a hugely satisfying way to finish,” he said.
“The key thing from the squad’s perspective is that they have progressed from game one through.
“Speaking to the players, they were disappointed with the way we batted in games one and two but it was a great way to finish the series.
“It was a world class chase and a superb performance because England kept trying to come hard at us and we kept taking wickets.
“Stirling and Balbirnie were world class and we showed that on our day we are capable of beating the big teams, and I suppose it doesn’t come any bigger than England in England at the minute so I’m really delighted.”
Instonians host Woodvale in the Robinson Services Cup on Saturday.
Fixtures: CIYMS vs Waringstown; CSNI vs North Down; Instonians vs Woodvale; Lisburn vs Carrickfergus