To talk to some people in the aftermath of North Down’s shock Challenge Cup defeat by Downpatrick last weekend, you would have thought the Comber club’s cricketing obituary was being written.
According to some pundits, Marty Moreland’s team were already in the middle of a Premier League relegation battle, even though just one full weekend of league action had been completed prior to Saturday.
But on the evidence of Saturday’s game against Waringstown at The Green, when North Down gave the champions plenty of anxious moments before rain intervened, reports of their demise are very premature.
By captain Marty Moreland’s own admission, North Down’s bowling in the opening three 50-over fixtures had not only lacked penetration, but also accuracy, and while they didn’t quite put those problems completely to bed, this was a massive improvement on what had gone before.
Pieter Malan, the professional, is increasingly important with the new ball and he produced a beauty to remove James Hall and he starved James McCollum of scoring opportunities to such an extent that the opener eventually lost patience and miscued to mid-off after scoring just 14 from 40 balls.
North Down’s accuracy was also instrumental in Lee Nelson’s demise, the Waringstown captain caught at mid-off trying to crash Moreland back of his head. He scored just 12 from 29 deliveries.
But North Down still leaked 17 wides and while Malan, Peter Eakin and Moreland (3-29) were economical, Peter Davison, Alistair Shields and Jacob Mulder bowled too many loose balls and when a thunderous shower struck in the 29th over of Waringstown’s innings, the villages were on a commanding 124 for three.
Adam Dennison had batted beautifully, bringing up his 50 with his second six, rocking back to pull Moreland over mid-wicket, while Cobus Pienaar looked in ominous form with three lovely boundaries.
But the rain, which damaged large portions of the square, largely played into the hands of the home team.
When the sides eventually got back onto the pitch, the game had been reduced to 34 overs per side and Waringstown made a mess of their final five overs.
Moreland and Mulder bowled straight and four wickets fell in the space of 19 balls for the addition of just 12 runs.
Waringstown limped to 153 for seven but the Duckworth-Lewis adjustment took full account of the position they were in before the rain break and set North Down 196 to win in 34 overs.
It was a 50-50 equation and North Down’s batsmen started positively, with Daniel Graham crashing five boundaries in his 26.
With dark clouds looming and another rain break likely to end proceedings for good, it came down to whether we would get 20 overs finished, and whether North Down could keep up with the DL equation.
Malan scored his 22 briskly, but when the rain returned and ended the contest, with North Down 73 for two in the 18th over, Waringstown were probably narrowly ahead.
The home side still needed 32 off 15 balls to have been ahead at 20 overs, a tricky enough equation when another wicket would effectively have left them with a mountain to climb. Still it was a serious improvement on their previous displays.