Hills make final after looking Down and out
THE Hills staved off a ferocious chase to eke out a three-run win away to North Down and book their place in the Irish Senior Cup Final.
Nazeer Shoukat was the hero when, having withdrawn himself from the attack earlier, he stepped up for the final over and denied the Ulster side the eight runs they needed for victory, conceding only five thanks to some sublime deliveries.
It was a fixture worthy of a semi-final as the game ebbed and flowed, culminating in the dramatic climax.
The Hills were first to bat and with a stiff breeze and rain threatening they got off to a very slow start, losing a wicket after just three balls with only six runs on the board. Opener Nicolaas Pretorius was the man to walk first.
The runs were few and far between as after 10 overs The Hills were 27-1. Mike Baumgart was taken lbw in the 26th over as The Hills slumped to 72-4 and the game began to shift towards North Down. Max Sorensen's introduction, though, was the turning point as he brought The Hills past the 100 mark and began to stem the flow of wickets.
With the overs beginning to run out, Sorensen pulled out some brilliant shots in the 39th with three boundaries in a row - a six followed by back-to-back fours - and psychologically this seemed to reignite the visitors.
The Irish International reached the half-century mark with a fantastic six, leaning back in the crease before smashing the delivery high and over.
Eventually Sorensen was taken when he got mixed up and was run out as The Hills had moved to 165-5. Shoukat didn't last long at the crease, but Manu Kumar - crucially, it turned out - smashed the last ball of the innings for six as The Hills scored 18 runs off the final over to close on 223-8.
North Down began their chase in a bright fashion as they soon found themselves on 23-0 after five overs, their openers cementing a strong partnership.
Heavy rain forced the players off, but there was to be no requirement for Duckworth Lewis as no overs were lost.
The Hills were bowling quite short and North Down were taking advantage, and at 37-0 after 10 overs they were beginning to control the game.
The hosts managed to reach 101-0 at the half-way point and a dropped catch seemed to sum up the afternoon for John Wills' side as the hosts seemed to be cruising to the target required.
Wicketkeeper Pretorius took the first catch with the score having moved on to 126, but it wasn't until the 36th over that The Hills managed to take their second wicket of the day.
With 10 overs remaining the wickets began to tumble, but fielding errors seemed destined to cost The Hills. Mike Baumgart handed his side a lifeline as he took the fourth wicket at 181, but it seemed to be just prolonging the inevitable.
A quick stumping by Pretorius left North Down needing 34 from the last five overs and Shoukat, having returned to the attack, took another wicket and a late six by Down saw them require just 21 off the last three overs.
The moment of the match arrived then as Shoukat swapped himself with Sorensen, clearly keeping one over in the bag for a finish destined to go to the wire.
The tactic worked as he returned to the crease and restricted the Northern side to see the Hills book their place in the final where they will try to win back the title they claimed for the only time in 2012.