As absurd as it might seem after his man-of-the-match performance in Saturday’s Irish Senior Cup final, Shaheen Khan will not be eligible to return as Waringstown’s overseas professional next season.
The South African all-rounder, who made a decisive unbeaten 71 from just 54 balls and took two wickets to help the villagers beat Merrion, is no longer a first-class cricketer in his homeland and while he might be the cricketing equivalent of a fine wine, getting better with age, the 31-year-old will not return to The Lawn for a fourth campaign in 2019.
Khan will at least go home as Waringstown’s most decorated ever professional. Greg Thompson’s team already had three trophies safely stored away in the cabinet, but this was the one they wanted to keep more badly than any of the others. Victory took them past North County to a record six Irish Cup victories and this was just the second time any team has retained the toughest club cricket competition in the country.
In truth, the outcome was rarely in doubt after Thompson won a decisive toss.
Half-centuries from James Hall, James McCollum and Khan were key to a daunting total of 264 for seven on a pitch that was weighed too heavily in favour of the team batting first.
Used in two of the three ODIs between Ireland and Afghanistan, this was a surface that Waringstown would have hand-picked and taken around the country with them and probably the only dangers after Thompson called correctly were the possibility of losing early wickets to Ireland seamer Tyrone Kane or a batting masterclass from John Anderson.
Kane did bowl well, taking the prize wicket of Adam Dennison in the seventh over, but the support bowling was wholehearted but unthreatening.
Hall and McCollum took full advantage, both batting beautifully, if not without the odd alarm, in adding 127 for the second wicket to take Waringstown to 139 for one in the 34th over.
Hall struck five fours and two sixes in an innings restrained by his standards, while McCollum, always the big-match player, contributed 54 from 73. At that stage something close to 300 was possible, but Anderson, who was introduced into the attack too late, took wickets in the 32nd, 34th and 36th overs as Waringstown lost three wickets for 12 runs.
At 152 for four, Merrion scented blood, but Khan, who began with an effortless straight six off Anderson, slammed the door shut, adding 66 with Thompson to give Waringstown crucial momentum in the closing overs.
A target of 265 was at least 30 more than Merrion would have fancied chasing and their predicament looked much worse when first Dom Joyce edged Phil Eaglestone behind and then Bhavesh Lakhotia was brilliantly run out by a James Mitchell direct hit.
It was all going to be about the Waringstown spinners though, and while Anderson, batting at number three, initially played them well enough, he was instrumental in his own downfall, taking on a risky paddle sweep from Gary Kidd’s third delivery and was lbw.
To their great credit, Merrion didn’t leave the room quietly, even with their talisman gone. The newly crowned Leinster champions kept the scoreboard ticking over against the Waringstown spinners, and when they reached 113 for three in the 24th over, thanks to a 45-run stand between Kane and Michael Lewis, there were a few frayed nerves amongst the Waringstown supporters.
But it was one of those days when the villagers took a wicket just about every time they needed one, and when Lewis departed to Kidd (2-35), and Lee Nelson (2-38) bowled Kane, you felt it was the beginning of the end for the Dubliners.
An injured Dave Langford-Smith raged against the dying of the light, as he had done in the 2015 final between the sides at The Lawn, in a brief late flurry, but he was the second run-out victim before, fittingly, Khan took the last wicket courtesy of a fine running catch from Eaglestone.
‘Six times’ was the jubilant chant from the boundary.