It was the day romance returned to the Ulster Bank NCU Premier League.
The day the 2016 CIYMS cricketing galaciticos, Justin Kemp et al, were on the wrong end of a humbling that almost no-one outside of Queensway, and perhaps few inside, had envisaged.
Derriaghy, the team who confounded expectations by winning Section One last year and then steadfastly refused to strengthen their squad for the top flight, are the cricketing Leicester City, at least for a day.
In a league that has increasingly lacked surprises and been dominated by the elite few since it was reduced from 10 to eight clubs, Derriaghy’s 23-run victory was a reward for old-fashioned sporting virtues. Team-work and a never-say-die attitude are back in vogue.
Derriaghy’s batsmen, helped by at least six dropped catches, combined skill and grit to post 212 for six batting first, but the famously short straight Queensway boundaries were poised invitingly for the likes of Kemp, Johnny Thompson and Nigel Jones, who once smashed a Twenty20 hundred on this ground.
Initially there was no indication of the drama to come. Jones and Chris Dougherty reached 28 without overdue alarm but then Jones, attempting a pull shot off Mark Stinson, miscued to mid-off. Dougherty, batting with a groin problem, was the first of three batsmen in a row to be clean bowled.
Kemp, in his first innings in Ulster cricket, pulled his second delivery for six, but that was as good as it got for the illustrious former South Africa and IPL all-rounder. He scored just eight from 16 balls before he, like John Matchett, was bowled by Peter Bell.
Stephen Chambers made just a single in his debut innings before becoming Craig Lewis’ second victim and at 63 for five and with a tail as long as a ship’s rat, CI resembled a fast sinking vessel.
But what made this match all the more riveting was Thompson’s fearless counter-attack. The small Queensway boundaries bear more than a canny resemblance to his native North West, and with seemingly nothing to lose, soon he was peppering them. His first maximum only just cleared a boundary fielder but the next four were mammoth blows as Thompson first dominated a stand of 33 with newcomer Karhik Rijavelu and 61 for the seventh wicket with Zach Rushe.
At 157 for six and with required run-rate not really a factor, CI were suddenly in the driving seat but just as Derriaghy’s dreams appeared to be fading Aphale (2-40) deceived Rushe with one that hurried onto him as the former Instonians man tried to work it through the on side.
By now Thompson, perhaps conscious that victory was now a genuine possibility, had reined himself in a little, but in an attempt to break the shackles he miscued Aphale and Lewis took a comfortable catch at long-on. Thompson had struck 67 from just 58 balls, including five fours and five sixes.
Even then CI, to their credit, refused to roll over and die, Allen Coulter, another debutant, playing with commendable discipline, taking Aphale for consecutive boundaries in the 41st over before injudiciously attempting a needless second run and he was beaten by Ross Bailey’s throw.
Almost everyone contributed for Derriaghy, Lewis striking five fours and four sixes in his 56, Aphale making 42 and opener Adam Jamison, the chief beneficiary of CI’s generosity in the field, 47.
Rushe was the pick of CI’s attack with 4-57 while Thompson’s 10 overs went for just 18.
Whatever happens now, and there will be some tough times to come for Derriaghy this summer, this mostly young team will never forget the day CIYMS were humbled. What is most significant is that they deserved it. They were better than their illustrious opponents in every discipline of the game.