Kyle McCallan has been involved in some dramatic finishes as a Waringstown player over the years, but few can have rivalled last night’s epic conclusion to the Irish Cup semi-final with CIYMS at Belmont.
The villagers, attempting to reach the final of Ireland’s leading club cricket competition for a remarkable fifth year in a row and in the process end CI’s hopes of a clean sweep of trophies, went into the final over still needing 10 runs for victory.
McCallan and Haseeb Azam, the Pakistan professional who has been much maligned for his batting this summer, were at the crease for the final six balls to be bowled by Obus Pienaar, the CI and former Waringstown overseas player who had been the weak link in the CI attack.
Why Pienaar had the ball in front of Nigel Jones, the captain, or indeed Jacob Mulder or Trevor Britton, was a mystery, but when his first four deliveries went for just two runs, the decision looked vindicated, with Waringstown needing an unlikely eight off the final two balls with McCallan on strike.
But from the penultimate delivery Pienaar inexplicably dropped short and 43-year-old McCallan leant back and pulled him over mid-wicket for six.
Now Waringstown knew that a single off the final ball would be enough to earn a tie which would book them a place in the final against Pembroke courtesy of having lost fewer wickets. But McCallan instead squeezed a boundary behind square past a diving fielder to spark pandemonium amongst the Waringstown players and supporters and stun a CI team who were strong favourites to add the Irish Cup to the Challenge Cup and T20 Cup which are already safely in the trophy cabinet.
McCallan might claim the headlines but it was just as much about Haseeb, who firstly helped Waringstown get an early stranglehold by conceding just seven runs from 10 overs and bowling Pienaar as he shouldered arms.
The Pakistani, who will now come face to face with his predecessor as Waringstown pro, Shaheen Khan, in the final, produced by far his best innings yet, dominating the decisive seventh-wicket stand of 65 with McCallan, striking three sixes and a four in an unbeaten 40 from just 37 balls.
At 108 for two chasing a modest 207 for victory, Waringstown were cruising. James Hall had gone early, bowled by a beauty from Mark Adair, But Dennison and James McCollum (33) added 57 for the second wicket, and CI were running out of ideas before the latter went, getting a leading edge as he tried to work James Cameron-Dow against the spin.
However, the game started to turn as first Mulder (3-31) had Lee Nelson (20) caught at mid-on trying to attempt a big shot and then Adam Dennison, who had batted without nerve in a tense situation, was superbly caught by wicketkeeper Chris Dougherty down the leg side one ball after reaching his half-century, CI started to seize control.
Mulder and Britton in particular strangled the scoring and when Greg Thompson departed for a painstaking 15 from 32 balls, the villagers, bidding for a third Irish Cup triumph in a row, were 144 for six and second favourites.
Mark Adair bowled beautifully in a nerve-wracking finale but Waringstown will have been relieved they were facing Pienaar and not Jones in that final over.
Earlier in the day it was CI’s famed batting depth that dragged them out of trouble. Despite a battling half-century from Dougherty, they slumped to 116 for six.
Jason van der Merwe, so often their batting saviour recently, was typically composed in making 47 from just 50 balls and with the help of the tail and some shoddy Waringstown fielding in the closing overs, CI scrambled to a defendable 206 for eight.
The final is scheduld for The Hills on Saturday, August 31.
However, the showpiece will clash with the Ram Slam T20 tournament in which Greg Thompson is due to feature along with three Pembroke players.