It was at The Green in Comber last August that CIYMS’ NCU Premier League title hopes ultimately floundered on the back of a batting collapse during which they snatched defeat from the very jaws of victory.
If anything, Nigel Jones’ men were even more in control of Saturday’s opening-day match with North Down in the Robinson Services top flight before a thrilling finale saw them lose by three runs chasing 170 for victory.
The home side, likely to be one of CI’s rivals for silverware, were not so much in trouble, as apparently down and out, on 42 for five and then 56 for six batting first on a green pitch.
Alistair Shields, Ruhan Pretorius and Ryan Haire, North Down’s best three batsmen, were back in the pavilion for a combined collective of nine runs as Jones (3-13) and Allen Coulter gratefully exploited the conditions.
If you had offered North Down even 120 at that stage they would have bitten your hand off, with Peter Eakin having only Jay Hunter, the wicketkeeper with a modest first top-flight season behind him with the bat, and the tail for company.
CI’s bowling attack is the best in the division, three quality seamers and a spin triumvirate of Jacob Mulder, James Cameron-Dow and Trevor Britton. But if anything, Jones seemed to have too many options. At 56 for six, he was bowled out, and he tried to finish the innings, and effectively the match, using the slow bowlers. It wasn’t his fault that all three were off colour, Mulder bowling too many loose deliveries and Cameron-Dow, who started with a rank full toss, looking under-cooked on his return to these shores.
But you did wonder why Jones persisted with the slow men as long as he did with Coulter and Matt McGillivray both having overs up their sleeves. Amidst the ruins of six wickets down, Eakin and Hunter were not put under enough pressure and the former brought up the hundred with a towering six back over Mulder’s head. Dropped on 37 off Britton, Eakin brought up his half-century in the 42nd over.
An over later, with 200 in North Down’s sights, he was gone for 52 from 113 balls as David Robinson took a fine running catch, ending a partnership of 88, and with Hunter gone two overs later for 34, North Down scraped to 169.
The new ball factor was always likely to be key in the run chase and CI were in trouble on 24 for three as Pretorius removed Chris Dougherty and McGillivray, and John Matchett was run out.
Jones though appeared in total control even if the batsmen at the other end were never entirely convincing. He added 50 with Ryan Hunter and then a breezy 38 with Mulder and at 113 for four, North Down were starting to fear the worst.
Marty Moreland brought Pretorius (5-27) for a last roll of the dice and he immediately had Mulder caught behind and four overs later Jones dragged one into the hands of mid-wicket. He had made 53 from 80 balls.
Even then CI inched their way towards the target but when Cameron-Dow (22) was bowled attempting to slog Haire, the tide had turned and number 10 and 11 were left needing 10 for victory. The equation became six off the final over but from the third delivery Robinson charged down the pitch for a nonexistent second run and was stranded feet from safety as Jay Hunter removed the bails.
It was a typically haphazard finish to a flawed but thrilling game of cricket.