Lee Nelson relishing crucial clash with North Down
Waringstown could open up an eight-point lead at the top of the Robinson Services Premier League today with a win over North Down but captain Lee Nelson isn’t looking too far ahead.
The Villagers have won seven of their eight league games to date – most of which have been in dominant fashion – to put themselves in prime position to lift a 31st title.
This weekend’s opponents – who sit second and are four points adrift – are the only side to have beaten Waringstown in the league after a 175-run win at The Green in June.
If Waringstown are to avenge that defeat they will need to produce another clinical all-round performance, and Nelson believes that has been the key to their good results so far this season.
“If you had offered me at the start of the season to be where we are now then I would have bit your arm off for it obviously,” he said.
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“The boys have done really well and it’s been a real collective team effort. Everybody has chipped in at times when they’ve been needed.
“Sometimes when you’re batting 5-7 you haven’t got a lot of opportunities in some games but when their time has come they’ve pulled us out of a hole and done well. I just think we have been really good as a group.”
Their batting department – which was strengthened by the additions of Andre Malan and Graham Hume – has been particularly impressive.
Waringstown have amassed 300+ runs on four occasions in the league and also equaled their highest-ever team score by posting 420-6 against Carrickfergus.
“It’s trying to find the right balance of who bats where and when,” added Nelson.
“We’ve tried to keep a bit of experience in finishing positions and Andre has been been phenomenal.
“We tweaked the order about a bit from the start of the season to where we are now and I think we’ve found the right balance for it.”
Overseas professional Andre Malan has once again led the way, scoring 796 runs in 11 innings at an average of 88.44.
He has scored four centuries – more than any other player - and narrowly missed out on a fifth when he was run out on 99 against Woodvale.
Today he will be coming up against the only batsman in the top-flight that has a better average than him (Aniruddha Chore, 106.75) and Nelson has been delighted with his contributions.
“His approach has maybe been a bit different than it was when we played against him,” he said.
“He has maybe got a bit more aggressive but I think the nature of the pitches has dictated that. He has been phenomenal. The amount of runs he has scored to the amount of innings he has played is incredible.
“He has fitted in really well. That number three position can be sometimes hard to fill but his experience in there has been a great help.”
Malan is coming in behind an opening partnership of Irish international James McCollum (370 runs) and Adam Dennison (416 runs), who scored a century against Carrick and followed it up with 76 in a win over CSNI.
It has marked a return to form for one of the best performers in recent seasons and Nelson believes there’s even more to come from the 24-year-old.
“James being around is a big help because he has a lot of experience,” he added.
“People forget that Adam is still very young. There are going to be periods where he goes through lean spells but he is absolutely nowhere near his prime yet. His record speaks for itself. He’s coming into form at the right time.
“They are both still so young. They complement each other and they are good mates, so it seems to work really well for us.”
With the ball, 45-year-old former Ireland international Kyle McCallan has been in top form, collecting 22 wickets in 13 games at the second-best average (17.09) in the top-flight.
“I personally believe he has bowled better this season than he has done in the past few years,” added Nelson.
“I don’t know the reasoning behind it or why but he has performed really well, even by his own standards. He has been tremendous.”
Nelson knows a weekend win is crucial because if North Down are to pick up the points, the two teams will be level at the top with five games to play.
“Waringstown vs North Down games are always up there with the stature behind them,” he said.
“This one is going to be no different. It’s nice to see the two of us challenging again for titles because when I came into the team that was always the big game and it looks like it’s still the big one.
“It’s certainly one to look forward to and we should see a decent crowd as well.”