Nigel Jones couldn’t be more correct when he says the Ulster Bank NCU Premier League title race is about to enter a potentially pivotal and decisive weekend.
With the weather for once apparently set fair, the CSNI captain knows his team have an opportunity to get right into the heart of the battle alongside leaders Waringstown and second-placed Instonians.
CSNI have already the Challenge Cup and Lagan Valley Steels Twenty20 Cup tucked safely in the bag and victory over Waringstown at The Lawn on Saturday would put them firmly in the title picture.
The Stormont side have three league defeats, two more than Waringstown and one more than Instonians, so winning the title outright remains a long shot bar an unlikely sequence of results.
But should Jones’ team triumph at The Lawn and beat CIYMS on Sunday their prospects of at least sharing the trophy would be seriously enhanced.
“If we get the results that we want this weekend we will be there or thereabouts,” said Jones. “We are still in the running but at the same time even if we win all four matches other results would still need to go our way. All we can control is our games.
“If we beat Waringstown that would put them on two defeats and with them and Instonians still to play each other twice, it’s unlikely that either team will beat the other in both games. I think both will probably win once so it could end up with all of us on three defeats each.
“If that happens and we get a share of the league it would give us a treble of league, Challenge Cup and Twenty20 Cup, which I don’t think anyone has done before.”
Jones identifies the back end of last season, when his team went on a fine winning run, and the settled nature of his first eleven squad this summer, as being instrumental in their success.
“We have been fairly settled this year in having a bunch of 13 guys, usually it was 18 to 20 in the past which didn’t help,” he continued. “Allen Coulter is also having a better season, 2008 was a massive season for him, he won the award that year, but he would admit he’s been up and down since then. This season he’s put in performances back to back and that’s allowed me to work away at the other end.”
CSNI will field their Challenge Cup winning team on Saturday against a Waringstown side who are without Shaheen Khan, their professional, but include Greg Thompson, who missed the showpiece at Comber. Jones has promised that his team will once again be vocal in the field in attempting to put a young opposition under pressure.
He said: “As long as it doesn’t get personal there’s nothing wrong.”
Jones will certainly not be expecting the green-top that helped his seamers so extravagantly in the Challenge Cup final. However, he has backed his batsmen to coped with Waringstown’s spinners, with captain Lee Nelson having five frontline slow bowling options.
“I will be surprised if it’s a green seamer,” he added. “But I think more teams are getting used to playing spin now and there is more depth in batting line-ups. It does promise to be a great game. I guess Waringstown have to win from a title point of view. We know that if we win we will keep the other teams under pressure.”