You may have heard of Nostradamus. He was a sixteenth-century French apothecary who in 1555 published The Prophecies. Since its publication – and The Prophecies has rarely been out of print – many observers have argued that Nostradamus successfully predicted a string of momentous global events, such as the growth of the Ottoman Empire, the rise of Hitler, and the terrorist attacks of 2001.
Others say that it’s all hokum, the product of an addled mind. I always thought so too, but when The Prophecies are read in a certain way, Nostradamus seems to have predicted an event of world-shattering significance for the Braid Valley in mid-June this year. Was he referring to our match against Lisburn, the match that ‘nobody wanted to win’?
The suspicion that Nostradamus was onto something grew stronger through the week. Michael Glass had slaughtered a goat behind the squash courts and the omens were good; strange patterns of bird flight over the Fairhill Shopping Centre augured well; and the show-jumping event being held on Eaton Park’s meadow was won by a pale horse with a rider named Death.
We won the toss and batted first on a dry pitch. A game of cat and mouse ensued. I opened the batting with Jack Gibson (two mice). Lisburn opened with Richard McConkey and David Simpson (one cat). We prospectively placed Azeem, Steve, and James (three cats) at 4, 5, and 6 in the order, while Darryl Brown (Lisburn’s other bowling cat) was held back.
After two overs, Simpson removed himself from the attack, so it was all mice. Our mice, though, played a little better than theirs and we reached 56-0 off 14 overs before I was caught behind. Jack followed a few overs later, so the stage was set for the cats. Thankfully nobody sang that awful song about memory.
Again, our cats batted a little better than their cats bowled. Even if Steve fell cheaply, and even if Azeem had two enormous strokes of luck (bowled off a no ball and then almost unbelievably dropped at mid-wicket) he and James Kennedy played very well for their 84 and 56*.
Unsurprisingly, Carl Williams – who has bowled thousands of overs at Eaton Park over the years – was Lisburn’s most economical bowler. We miss him, on and off the pitch.
Ballymena finished on 232. We were confident – what a strange feeling! – because even if we chased 203 against Waringstown in 2012, no visiting side has chased more than 200 at Eaton Park since we returned to the Premier League.
We even took an early wicket, Davy Simpson caught at square-leg, but the junior Simpson and Bob Rankin then set about our bowling fairly aggressively. Rankin strikes the ball cleanly and played some lovely shots as he and Simpson built a significant stand for the second wicket. As ever Simpson dug in and fought hard and played some nice strokes, but he had quite a bit of luck. It begs the question: if a cat has nine lives, how many has a Dogg?
They reached 80-odd for 1 after 18 overs and things were looking bleak. Then Nostradamus was proved right: I took some wickets. This was astonishing. Not quite as astonishing as taking 4 for 36 at Waringstown last year, but on that occasion it poured down and those figures were scratched from the books, as if to prove that I did not deserve them.
Anyway, back to Saturday: three people missed straight balls, Steve had Darryl caught well by a wrong-footed Azeem at slip, and Lisburn were soon struggling at about 110-5. Yet from here we bowled some absolute pies and suddenly Lisburn were 142-5 at the start of the power play. Game on?
It could have been – and I was getting a bit antsy, shouting maniacally from the boundary – but then the little brother bowled well for the first time this year and killed the game, picking up three wickets very quickly. ‘Family not crap after all’, the headlines will state in the town papers.
So we had a good day. It had to happen eventually. Liam Neeson, Jimmy Boyce, Willie John McBride, and the ghost of Roger Casement have sent congratulatory telegrams. The long-delayed open-top bus tour of the town centre has been planned for the week ahead, when we shall proudly parade the four points in front of our adoring public.
It was a good weekend for CIYMS. First there was the interprovincial Twenty20 match at Belmont on Friday night: it was the best set-up of the year so far, with the most going on, and the biggest crowd. Then there was the simple win over Cliftonville to move into the quarter-finals of the Challenge Cup.
Things were capped off with victory in the Twenty20 Cup against Waringstown at The Lawn, where the host club put on another magnificent show. Incidentally, I am relieved that CI won with a few balls to spare: I am convinced they had one run more than the scorers had given them throughout the innings.
Now, I don’t like CI’s recruitment policy. I know it’s their money and their right under existing regulations, but the bitter part of me – and most people from Waringstown that were sitting around me – noted that of the 40 overs they bowled across the day, only 2 were delivered by a native of Belmont.
Of course, I wanted to ask the home faithful from which part of the village Pretorius, Eaglestone, McCallan, Thompson, and McCollum had come. (I also know, before you bite, that Ballymena were at their strongest in recent years when Aphale, Lazars, McKinley, and Kirkpatrick were playing in the same team.)
Yet as I noted in my commentary, it was the home-grown Aaron Johnston’s unbeaten 21 that saw CI across the line. Playing in a strong team is the best way for young players to develop; Waringstown themselves have had that luxury since time immemorial. Sunday, therefore, might have been the first palpable example of CI’s policy paying dividends.