If Waringstown do go on to win the NCU Premier League, and that’s still by no means a certainty given their tough run-in and long injury list, Saturday’s win at Ballymena will be a pivotal moment.
On a ground where they hadn’t won since 2010, Waringstown were already without Shaheen Khan, Greg Thompson and Phil Eaglestone when James McCollum left the field in just the third over of the game, the webbing in his hand split as he attempted to field off his own bowling.
The villagers managed to restrict Ballymena to 176 all out but their hopes of reaching that target on an inconsistent Eaton Park pitch suffered what appeared to be a hammer blow when Kyle McCalllan, batting at number five, re-aggravated a calf injury.
The villagers had appeared in control on 43 for one, but James Hall and Adam Dennison fell in successive overs to leave it 49 for three and McCallan and McCollum’s injuries effectively meant they were five wickets down and in serious difficulties.
Lee Nelson, the captain, launched a recovery with 30 and the game was poised on a knife-edge when the rain game after 29 overs with Waringstown 89 for three. While Nelson was there with David Dawson the smart was money on Waringstown but Nelson was gone in the 32nd over, the ball holding up on the pitch from Steve Lazars, and he was caught at mid-off.
At 94 for four and just Jonathan Bushe and the tail to come, Ballymena were favourites to secure a victory that would all but preserve their Premier League status for another season.
However, Ballymena’s big weakness is their bowling attack. Michael Glass was already bowled out, having taken two for 16 in a miserly 10-over spell, and Simon McDowell gambled by bowling Lazars out when perhaps he should have held him in reserve.
Getting those 83 runs should have been devilishly difficult for Waringstown but instead it was all rather comfortable. Dawson is a formidable player once he gets his feet moving. A vulnerable starter, he is difficult to stop once he’s into his stride, flicking the ball superbly off his legs and driving through the covers with equal aplomb.
He and Bushe (25) added 58 in just 12 overs, with the wicketkeeper making by far his most significant contribution with the bat this season. It was fitting that Dawson sealed the five-wicket victory with 14 balls to spare, as he struck his seventh four through the on-side. He also hit one six during an innings that took 84 balls and 110 minutes.
Ballymena were left to rue their failure to ram home a good position with the bat. Waringstown’s seam attack was led by veteran Alan Harrison and teenager Sam Wilson and when the home side were 131 for four and with Yogesh Takawale at the crease, 200 was the minimum they should have aspired to.
But Waringstown kept taking wickets at the other end and the key moment came in the 42nd over as Takawale scooped Gary Kidd (3-30) to cover where Ryan Dennison held on to the most vital of catches.
The Indian professional was seventh out for 63 from 85 balls and he hadn’t managed to cut loose in the manner that Ballymena hoped.
A total of 176 was less than par and Waringstown now have an eight-point lead at the top of the table.