Friday’s Ulster Bank NCU Challenge Cup final pits the undisputed leading team in Ulster cricket so far in 2014, Waringstown, against the only side to have beaten them in 50-over cricket this season, Civil Service North.
It pits probably the longest batting line-up in the country, Waringstown’s, against arguably the finest seam attack in the NCU, the one at the disposal of Civil Service North captain Nigel Jones.
Waringstown, the cup holders, are attempting to become the first team to retain the trophy since North Down won it three years in a row between 2003 and 2005, while CSNI are out to avenge 2011’s final defeat by their opponents today.
Lee Nelson’s team haven’t lost a single match in the competition since 2010 – they went out in 2012 to Lisburn in a quarter-final bowl-out – and even though they will be without Greg Thompson who is honeymoon, the villagers should start as favourites.
Thompson does leave a hole, both at number six in the batting order and his return to leg-spin this summer would have given Nelson a second bowler, alongside Gary Kidd, to turn the ball away from the right-handers.
Waringstown though will believe they have the resources to cope with Kyle McCallan, a brilliant centurion in the 2013 cup final win over Instonians, and professional Shaheen Khan, likely to bat at five and six. The combination of Nelson himself and James Hall, both underestimated slow bowlers, will fill in for Thompson with the ball.
The game may hinge on the tussle between CSNI’s new-ball attack and the Waringstown top and middle order, a battle that the Stormont won emphatically in the Premier League game between the sides a month ago.
Jones himself, Allen Coulter and Mark Adair, injured for Friday’s final, all took two wickets apiece that day as Waringstown lost their first six wickets before they reached 100 on a pitch that seamed about early. Intriguingly, today’s pitch also has more than a green tinge and the smart money will be on Jones bowling first if he calls right.
CSNI may not quite have Waringstown’s batting depth but Dubliner Shane Getkate has given them more quality, as was demonstrated when his 88 effectively won that June 28 game.
Getkate, Jones, Jason van der Merwe and professional Griffin Nieuwoudt are four dangerous stroke-makers and 65 last Saturday against Muckamore has sealed an unlikely cup final appearance for Regan West, who appeared to have walked into the sunset and into retirement.
Jones said: “It came down to between Regan and two or three others but we went for him based on fitness and on big-match form. Regan loves the big occasion and he brings a real presence into the squad and opposition really want to see the back of him.”
Jones says his team have confidence based on that four-wicket win over the villagers.
“It’s nice to know you are capable of beating them,” he added. “Our mindset is that if we can do it once, then we can do it again.”
CSNI: (From) Nigel Jones, Regan West, Andrew Cowden, Jason van der Merwe, Shane Getkate, Charlie Beverland, Griffin Nieuwoudt, Chris McMorran, Allen Coulter, Corin Goodall, Ben Adair, John Costain.