If league form is the benchmark, then Civil Service North and CIYMS are two of the least likely teams you would expect to be contesting Friday’s Challenge Cup final.
CI, despite another winter of big-name signings, have won just once in five Premier League matches so far, while CSNI, for so long the NCU’s great unpredictables, have managed just two victories out of six.
However, cup competitions were always the likeliest source of success for the east Belfast duo with both capable of beating any opposition on their day.
While both teams unquestionably lack depth, particularly in batting, they have proven match-winners, and the key to Friday’s outcome will be the performances of the likes of Nigel Jones and Justin Kemp for CI, and Mansoor Amjad and Shane Getkate for CSNI.
The latter pair inspired CSNI’s unlikely semi-final triumph over Waringstown but as if to underline the point about consistency, Mansoor’s scores since that July 2 victory at The Lawn have been in single figures.
But before his salvo at The Lawn, Mansoor struck a rapid unbeaten 98 in the Twenty20 Cup tie between the clubs at Belmont. CI will desperately want to get him early, and he is a definite lbw candidate.
Getkate, as he showed against Waringstown is another batsman at his best when attacking impulsively. But CSNI have only passed 200 in the league once all season and CI’s seamers, namely Jones, Kemp, Allen Coulter and Johnny Thompson will be eyeing their long tail with relish.
CI too have their batting demons. Chris Dougherty, traditionally a rock at the top of the order, is struggling for runs, while Kemp’s form has been patchy at best.
Dougherty could well be pivotal to CI’s hopes. If he can occupy the crease and take the shine off the ball, it clears the way for Jones, Kemp and Thompson to cut loose later.
Conversely, for CSN, Mansoor is their bowling ace and he has the potential to cause problems for CI’s big hitters. Jones, for instance, has never been at his most confident against spin, though the Ireland international countered that theory with a thrilling counter-attack against Waringstown’s slow men a week ago in the league.
CI’S tail wretched earlier in the season, underlined by a dramatic collapse in the league against Carrickfergus from a comfortable position, though the return from Zach Rushe after an extended honeymoon delivers more experience and depth.
But my hunch is that CSNI, without the threat of Ireland bowler Graeme McCarter, may lack penetration with the ball on a fine batting pitch.
With the forecast promising not too many interruptions from showers, a 50-over game, rather than a shorter match where CSNI tend to prosper, will suit CI who should retain the trophy they won for the first time in such style a year ago.