The last two unbeaten teams in the Ulster NCU Premier League meet at Belmont on Saturday in a game that has the potential to shape the remainder of both club’s seasons.
CIYMS, inspired by brilliant South African professional Rassie van der Dussen, host a Waringstown team who, despite Sunday’s bowl-out ‘defeat’ to Railway Union, are unbeaten in eight completed fixtures.
A victory for CI, the 2012 league champions, would start to dispel the notion that they don’t have the depth, especially in batting, to last the course in a league title race. But if Waringstown do win against opposition they have struggled against in recent seasons it would underline their status as title favourites.
The team news favours CI. Steven Clarke, the former Bready batsman, returns to bat at number three while left-arm seam bowler Stephen Dunn is back after a hand injury.
The villagers though are without Phil Eaglestone, the left-arm seam bowler, for family reasons while Jonathan Bushe has begun a three-week holiday.
Dougherty says CI are a different team to the one that struggled to remain in the top flight in 2013.
“Last year was a tough season,” he said. “If you get off to a slow start it’s tough to get going but this season we are still unbeaten in the league and the Challenge Cup and Ulster Cup. We are looking at good runs in the cup, particularly the Challenge Cup, and of course in the league. Another four points this weekend would have us sitting well at the top of the table but it doesn’t come any tougher than against Waringstown.
“I think they have all departments covered, they have a good seam attack with Shaheen Khan and Stoop (Eaglestone), and you would expect their spinners to be strong.”
In van der Dussen, CI boast the league’s in-form cricketer. With almost 400 runs already and match-winning innings in the bank against North Down, Instonians and Strabane, Dougherty has had the pleasure watching him bat from the other end.
“Rassie has started the season very well,” said Dougherty, in an understated manner. “He is just a class act. He knows how to build an innings, he will try and see off the new ball and if him, myself and Steven Clarke can build a solid platform, we have Nathan Waller to come in later in the innings and really accelerate the scoring rate.
“We’re glad to have Steven back at three after three or four matches out. Without him we probably looked a little bit light on batting. Steven batted well last year and had a good record in the North West.”
Waringstown have won on each of their last two visits to Belmont with CI triumphing in both 2012 and 2013 at The Lawn.
“We haven’t done too badly against them, we beat them last season when we were struggling and no-one us expected us to, and we are a better squad of players now and we’re playing with more confidence,” added Dougherty.
Elsewhere on Saturday Muckamore and Ballymena attempt to get off the mark at home to North Down and CSNI respectively with Ballymena handing a long-awaited league debut to Indian professional Yogesh Takawale. Instonians host Lisburn in the other game where there is a 12pm start.