North Down captain Marty Moreland insists all the pressure is on Waringstown ahead of Saturday’s NCU Premier League title tussle at The Green.
Moreland’s men are probably the most unexpected of challengers,leading the table by four points from the villagers, although they have played one match more.
A first title victory in four years will virtually be within North Down’s grasp if they beat Waringstown and end a dismal run against the villagers in 50-over cricket over the last two seasons.
It is a scenario that has taken even Moreland by surprise.
“I always thought we were capable of beating anyone on our day, but it was whether we would be able to do that week in, week out,” said Moreland. “But we have improved so much since the first game of the season, both as a team and as individuals.
“But sitting top of the league with three matches to go, I would not have expected that. Over the last six or seven games we have stepped it up an awful lot. Sunday (against CI) was a massive win for us. To go there and chase 240 against a decent bowling attack was a great achievement.”
From being the outsiders, North Down are suddenly title favourites, but Moreland insists that doesn’t bring pressure.
“There is no pressure on us, we have just enjoyed ourselves and that’s what we will continue to do,” he said. “All the pressure is on Waringstown. They were expected to go and win the league but over the last couple of years they have lost a few finals and semi-finals. We will go out and play in the same way, we won’t be worrying about anyone else.”
Moreland admits Waringstown “hammered” his team at The Lawn last month, but since then, North Down have beaten Instonians, CI last Sunday and thrashed the villagers in a T20 game a fortnight ago.
However, you have to go to back to 2012 to the last time North Down beat Waringstown in the longer form of the game.
“It seems like a long time since we’ve beaten them in a 50-over games, that must be six or seven matches including cup games,” Moreland added. “But they don’t hold any fear for us. All the pressure is on them, we are the underdogs.”
North Down’s charge is reminiscent of Instonians’ a year ago and crucially they have in-form professional Pieter Malan. Whoever performs best between him and the blistering Ruhan Pretorius could decide the game.
North Down’s decision to finally sign a proven first-class professional has certainly paid dividends.
“He never panics and reads the game so well when he is in batting,” Moreland said. “He knows exactly what he can do and his bowling has got a lot better in the last while.
“He wants to do well for North Down, he turns up at 5pm for practice and he has really helped Danny Graham, Alistair Shields and Peter Eakin.”
The three young players that Moreland refers to have been as important than Malan (797 runs at 72.45).
Eakin has more than 400 runs and 26 wickets, Graham is six away from 400 while Shields is enjoying his best campaign in the top flight.
“Alistair always looked like he ticked all the boxes and now he is backing that up by scoring runs,” Moreland added. “Peter has played really well, his batting has improved a lot, he is trying to build an innings now. “Daniel has done really well in what is his first season opening.”