It might still be June but you can say it with virtual certainty – the battle for the Ulster Bank NCU Premier League title has already become a two-horse race.
CIYMS, with Justin Kemp, Nigel Jones, Johnny Thompson et all, are out of contention after four games, much closer to the bottom than the top, fluttering their eyelashes in the most unlikely flirtation with relegation.
It won’t come to that of course, but Saturday’s eight-wicket mauling by North Down at Comber encapsulated their struggles in the league. Get Chris Dougherty early, and North Down had him caught on the boundary without scoring, and a procession of wickets is the almost inevitable consequence.
That CI’s top scorer was their coach, the ‘retired’ Derek Heasley with 48, summed up the mediocrity of the rest on a pitch that admittedly offered early assistance to the home side’s seamers. Peter Eakin (4-28) was the chief destroyer and Jacob Mulder, let go by CI in the winter of 2014, took 3-10 as the Belmont men, Dr Jeykll in the Challenge Cup and Irish Cup and Mr Hyde in the Premier League, were hustled out, humiliatingly, in just 38.2 overs.
You can only judge a pitch once two teams have batted on it, and North Down had no such troubles, taking just 28 overs to get home with Mulder, previously unheralded as a batsman, unbeaten on 58 and Pieter Malan on 49.
Instonians at least offered more evidence that they can challenge the champions Waringstown.
It wasn’t so much their batting that impressed in the 121-run thrashing of Lisburn at Osborne Park, but the battery of fast bowlers at the disposal of captain Nikolai Smith.
A total of 200 for eight seemingly offered Lisburn half a chance of victory, but on a pitch with unexpected pace and bounce, Rusty Theron, Stephen Bunting and particularly Robert McKinley inflicted metaphorical and physical bruises on the visiting batsmen.
Richard Simpson took numerous blows to the body from Theron while his brother David was struck on the helmet and retired hurt as he unsuccessfully tried to evade a short one from McKinley.
Simpson could probably have returned to the crease, but there was little point, Cody Chetty standing tall amidst the carnage at the other end, unbeaten on 27 not as the ninth wicket fell by the 32nd over with Lisburn on a paltry 79.
McKinley, in his best performance yet for Instonians, took 4-12, Theron conceded just nine runs in eight overs and James Magee took the last two wickets for good measure.
If there was on caveat for Instonians, concerns remain about the depth of the batting if James Shannon and Andrew White can be dislodged at reasonable cost.
At 50 for three, they were in bother as Callum Atkinson (3-30) impressed, but White (43) and Neil Russell (36) dug them out of trouble with an 84-run partnership before another clatter of wickets stopped their in their tracks.