I didn’t say much about our defeat to Waringstown last week. These matches are no longer close and the gulf in class does not require explanation. The whole day, however, fitted perfectly with Ballymena’s two mottos for 2015. For before the match, ‘Que sera sera’. For after the match, ‘It could have been worse – nobody died’. (I might put that on my headstone.)
Yet it would help to explain the defeat to disclose that, as the bell went for the start of play, I was concentrating less on how to play Eaglestone and more on two pieces of trivia. The first concerned the linguistic origin of ‘Que sera sera’. The dressing room debated this point at length. Yes, we debated a Doris Day song at length. Glass went for Latin, Kennedy for Spanish, and Gibson for French. It turns out that the phrase is grammatical nonsense in every language.
The second teaser was the question, ‘Which five countries have names ending in the letter L?’ I got the fifth answer in about the ninth over as I played around my pad to the Knights’ left-armer. Instead of calling ‘Yes’ I almost exclaimed ‘Israel!’
Incidentally, Waringstown (9) joined Lisburn (also 9) at the top of the ‘Attendance in the bar within 30 minutes of the end of play’ league table. North Down (1), CSNI (0), and Instonians (0) have been left well behind.
There has been some positive reaction to my argument about the eight-team league. Most people seem to agree that it has not worked. Yet somebody who challenged my position – albeit cordially – argued that there now were fewer ‘abject miseries’ inflicted on Saturday afternoons where, say, the net run rate of the winning team would be double that of the losing team. In such a scenario, the team batting second would not get half-way to its target, or conversely would chase it down in fewer than twenty-five overs.
So I ran the stats again. Under the ten-team system (2009-11) 16% of matches produced ‘abject misery’ for one team; under the eight-team system (2012-15) exactly the same proportion of matches (16%) have produced ‘abject misery’. Any which way, the song remains the same.
We were supposed to play CIYMS in the league this week, but they beat North Down in the Cup quarter-final and so instead played Waringstown in the semi. In a rare moment of enthusiasm for cricket – I might have been drunk – I suggested that CricketEurope should cover the game, so I found myself at Belmont on Saturday morning. I am glad that I went.
Half-way through the second innings, the home side was in the mire. McCallan was bowling beautifully, taking three for not many. Gary Kidd had managed to avoid any further accidents involving Croatian boats, so he was fit to bowl and – as usual – had picked up the big wicket (in this case, van der Dussen). Jones had gone too and Thompson was far from fluent. It was a relatively slow and turning pitch. I gave them no chance.
Yet CIYMS kept going, the atmosphere got thicker, and the scores got closer. Some of the Waringstown supporters ordered an ark-load of chips to sustain them through the closing act. The poor delivery girl didn’t know what to do or where to go. She wasn’t the only one.
But just how did CI win this? How did Waringstown lose?
Perhaps a light and drizzling rain made the ball harder to grip as the match wore on, which might explain why Waringstown bowled 21 full tosses that went for a total of 42 runs.
Perhaps the rain also improved the pitch. It had been bursting through the top, popping, and ragging (it also produced 535 runs), but the moisture might have encouraged the ball to skid – and not to turn – off the surface.
Perhaps having the keeper stand up to Eaglestone and Pretorius was foolhardy.
Or perhaps Chris Dougherty simply played a blinder. Almost every bad ball was punished, he went over extra cover repeatedly (very hard to defend against that shot), for the most part he ran brilliantly between the wickets, and he also received the slice of luck – dropped at long-on when on 51 – that most one-day hundreds contain.
In the end, though, trying to explain why or how such a match was won or lost is almost pointless. When it comes down to the last of 600 balls, you can feasibly argue that any of the previous 599 deliveries – any piece of fielding, batting, or bowling – could have changed the outcome.
This should always have been a good match: there were six internationals on the pitch, five further Knights and Warriors, two South African professionals, and a handful of good club cricketers. At times the standard was higher than in some of this year’s interpro matches.
All the same, this should not be considered a great advert for local cricket. Rather, it was a great advert for these two clubs. They have outstanding setups and they performed at a standard to which most NCU clubs cannot even pretend.
This adds weight to the argument that as the strong get stronger, the rest get weaker. Indeed, as CIYMS and Waringstown played out their epic (and as Instonians and CSNI did much the same), Larne – a club that only a few years ago could field five senior teams – scratched against Armagh in Section Two.
Local cricket is not yet at ‘crisis point’, but it’s getting closer. Should we persist with an eight-team system and hope for the best? Should we revert to ten teams in the Premier League? Or should we consider a merger with the North West and Leinster, creating an elite, semi-professional and All-Ireland competition that would allow the rest of us – caught in the crosshairs – to go back to playing a decent standard of purely amateur cricket? To be discussed.