The current NCU Premier League standings bear an uncanny resemblance to a year ago.
Going into the final stages of the title race, Waringstown are the front-runners, and victories in two of their last three matches will almost certainly bring the league trophy back to The Lawn.
But the villagers will hope the similarities with 2014 end there. The memories of last year’s finale, when they were beaten twice in their last two matches by eventual champions Instonians, remain uncomfortably vivid, but Saturday’s 53-run victory over North Down at Comber hinted at a team determined to erase the pain of a year ago.
North Down went into the match as the leaders, knowing that a first victory in six league matches against their old rivals would make them overwhelming favourites to win the title. But given Waringstown’s vastly superior nett run-rate, North Down now need Waringstown to lose two of their last three matches to offer them an olive branch.
This was an enthralling cricket match, the momentum shifting one way and the next. Waringstown were eyeing up 300 when James Hall and James McCollum produced a chanceless opening stand of 129 in almost 26 overs, but North Down were dragging back the scoring rate by the time the breakthrough came in the 26th over.
Hall’s 50 came in just 51 balls but his next 11 took 21 before he was eventually caught at long-off off Taimur Khan. McCollum fell to the same bowler, lbw for 67, after hitting six boundaries, and suddenly Khan had the momentum.
Four Waringstown wickets fell for 21 runs before a rain break, all of them to Khan, the cloud cover allowing for perfect swing bowling conditions, and when Ruhan Pretorius dragged one on immediately after the resumption, the visitors were teetering on 176 for five.
Khan finished with five for 34, but with his spell over, Greg Thompson and David Dawson cashed in with a 64-run partnership in little more than eight overs.
Thompson had initially been circumspect against Khan, but opened his shoulders in familiar fashion, hitting three fours and a six in his 37 while Dawson, revitalised at number seven where he has licence to attack, hit 33 from just 27 balls including two fours and two sixes.
Waringstown had plundered 85 from the last 10 overs to reach 265 for eight.
What came next was arguably the finest exhibition of swing bowling you will see this season. Pretorius pegged back Daniel Graham’s off-stump in the second over as he offered no stroke, he trapped Andrew Sutherland lbw two overs later and then most importantly, Phil Eaglestone, who had repeatedly troubled Pieter Malan, induced an outside edge that Jonathan Bushe took diving to his right.
Alistair Shields was the second batsman bowled by Pretorius (3-29) shouldering arms to make it 28 for four and Peter Shields was dropped at slip in the same over before he had scored.
Shields added 78 for Khan (37) for the fifth wicket, striking four boundaries in his 58, but with Kyle McCallan (3-26) in typically parsimonious mood, the asking rate climbed to 11 runs an over.
North Down eventually went down swinging, all out for 212. They need help from others to get back into the race now. It’s advantage Waringstown but then we’ve said that before.