HE highlight of the weekend’s action in the NCU is on Sunday when the top two, CIYMS and Waringstown, clash for the first time in the Robinson Services Premier League.
With Waringstown having already lost twice to Carrickfergus, it is virtually a must-win game for the defending champions who already trail the league leaders by four points.
A CI victory would mean they could afford to lose the return match at The Lawn if they don’t slip up elsewhere and still be assured of clinching their first title for six years.
The way that the Belmont side have disposed of their opponents since their only defeat, on the first day of the season, would back up Waringstown’s fears that only a win will keep their Championship hopes alive, but they have the psychological boost of having beaten CI in their own back yard this season.
That was the thrilling Challenge Cup semi-final, decided off the final ball with the last pair at the wicket, but a significant difference on Sunday could be the absence of James McCollum, on Ireland Wolves duty at Oakhill.
Waringstown, though, still have a top five which walk into any team in the country — and they are in form.
Adam Dennison scored 145 not out in the Cup final seven days ago and two days later his opening partner James Hall hit 91 not out in the T20 final. McCollum is the regular insurance for an early dismissal but with Lee Nelson, Shaheen Khan and skipper Greg Thompson to follow, there is more than enough talent to post a match-winning total.
The one imponderable on Sunday will be the Belmont pitch. Unfit for any play this week when they were due to host the Cricket Ireland Academy, CI skipper Nigel Jones admits it is unlikely to be at its best and certainly the winners will not have to post anywhere near the 290 total which lost the semi-final.
In Chris Dougherty, John Matchett, Jones, Matt McGillivray, Ryan Hunter and Jason van Merwe, CI will aim to match fire with fire in the batting stakes so it could come down to the bowling of James Cameron-Dow and Jacob Mulder for CI v Gary Kidd and Kyle McCallan, who makes a welcome return from holiday, with Lee Nelson, who took three wickets in the Challenge Cup final, ready for the call again.
It is the second match of the weekend for both teams with CI hosting Armagh tomorrow and Waringstown away to North Down, and when Armagh travel to Comber on Sunday, it will be Shadley van Schalkwyk’s last appearance of the season. Such has been his dominance with the bat, alongside his team-mates, they will probably need two wins this weekend to save their top-flight status.
Nathan Smith is expected to make his comeback for Instonians in their home game against Muckamore tomorrow and with James Shannon and Shane Getkate in the Ireland Wolves squad, he will be a welcome addition.
Normally, a team second bottom in the table would be desperate for a win at this stage of the season but with 12 points, Civil Service North are probably safe ahead of their home game against Carrickfergus.