The NCU Premier League trophy was lurking expectantly in the shadows, the representative of the competition sponsors Ulster Bank was suited and booted on the boundary, but Instonians failed to turn up for what should have been their title-winning presentation at Stormont on Sunday night.
Needing a victory over Civil Service North to secure the title outright for the first time in 41 years, Eugene Moleon’s team lost by six runs in a thrilling finale, meaning both Waringstown and North Down can still get an unlikely share of the championship with Inst going into the final weekend.
Just 24 hours after they had beaten North Down in a dramatic game at Shaw’s Bridge, it was Instonians’ turn to be on the wrong end of a nailbiting finish.
In truth, it should never have reached that stage. Instonians were completely bossing the game, Carleon Brome taking five wickets as the home side were dismissed for 120, albeit on a difficult batting pitch.
If anything it became even more of a formality as Neil Russell dominated an opening partnership of 27 in eight overs with John Stevenson.
The latter perished to a brilliant catch at point off John Costain,and that wicket was the signal for Jones (4-17) to run through the Inst top order in an incredible sequence that saw four wickets fall for just three runs in less than three overs.
It was a truly remarkable finish to a pulsating weekend of cricket.
Inst must now avoid defeat at Shaw’s Bridge next Saturday to finally break open the champagne.
Waringstown, who shared the trophy with Inst in 2009, face Lurgan.
North Down will need to beat Lisburn and Civil Service Northern Ireland on Saturday and Sunday to join what could yet conceivably be a crowded winners’ podium.