JAMES McCollum will be at Milverton tomorrow as Waringstown aim to become the first team to complete a hat-trick of victories in the Irish Senior Cup final - but only as a spectator.
The Ireland international who scored back to back half centuries in the one-day international series against Zimbabwe last month and opened the batting in the Lord’s Test match against England, is out of the showpiece game against Pembroke after popping his shoulder this week.
It could yet be the difference between the Villagers winning a fourth final in five years – and a record seventh in all - but skipper Greg Thompson will back his side to complete the job without one of their star batsmen.
Indeed, because of his international commitments – and injury – McCollum has played only six of Waringstown’s 20 matches this season but a record of five wins and only one defeat with McCollum batting at No 3 supports the fact that the Irish Cup holders have more chance of success with him in the side than without.
Lee Nelson will move up one place, as he done in all but one of the other games, to fill the gap with David Dawson coming into the 11.
Thompson admits they have enjoyed some luck in reaching the decider this year, with a rain-affected game against Malahide and a bowl-out in the quarter-final against Instonans.
The wet August means that Waringstown’s last game was the last-ball victory in the semi-final against CIYMS at Belmont three weeks ago when, as they have done so often over the last five years, they invariably find a way to win an Irish Cup tie.
“We always know when we play CIYMS in a cup match it’s going to be a tight game and the semi-final was no different but Kyle (McCallan) and Haseeb (Azam, their overseas player) showed their experience and composure to get us across the line."
And the Waringstown skipper is expecting another tight contest tomorrow.
“Even without Prince (McCollum) we’ve a lot of experience in the squad and most of the guys involved have tasted success in this competition more than once, but we’ll take nothing for granted. Pembroke, with their four internationals, are an incredibly strong side and it should be a fantastic final,” added Thompson.
Andrew Balbirnie, Ireland’s No 3 in all formats, is the star player in the Pembroke ranks, Barry McCarthy ripped through the Northern Knights top order in their inter-provincial Championship game last week, Lorcan Tucker hit an undefeated half century at Stormont on Tuesday and Josh Little’s left arm pace can be difficult to get away.
The most interesting player in the team, however, is someone who Waringstown know as well as his Pembroke team-mates, Shaheen Khan who was forced to quit the Villagers as their overseas player this season because he does not play first-class cricket.
The NCU side’s loss is Pembroke’s huge gain as he has had a major impact at Sydney Parade, opening the bowling and scoring vital runs in the middle order. McCollum’s absence may not be the difference but Shaheen’s change of sides could and it would be the cruellest of ironies if the South African is key to preventing Waringstown creating Irish Cup history.