Back-to-back wins boost Braidmen’s hopes of survival

Ballymena wicketkeeper James McClean waits for any slip from Carrickfergus batsman Jamie Holmes during Saturday's NCU Premier League match at Middle Road. INCT 27-012-PSB

Ballymena wicketkeeper James McClean waits for any slip from Carrickfergus batsman Jamie Holmes during Saturday's NCU Premier League match at Middle Road. INCT 27-012-PSB

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Ballymena defeated Carrickfergus by seven wickets on Saturday, claiming four points in the race against NCU Premier League relegation.

Following heavy overnight rain, Carrickfergus’s Middle Road ground was sodden: the toss was delayed for an hour and, given the ideal conditions for bowling, the toss became vital.

Oddly, Carrickfergus captain Iain Parkhill decided to bat first and Ballymena soon made inroads into the home line-up. Matthew Purse, in probably his best spell for the 1st XI, took two early wickets and at one stage was bowling with all nine fielders on the off-side.

Several chances went down, though and it took an inspirational piece of fielding from Ballymena skipper James Kennedy to bring about the third wicket, the run out of Michael Gilmour (49) with the score on 83.

Carrickfergus professionals Jamie Holmes and Indrajeet Kamtekar put on 102 for the fourth wicket and, at one stage, Ballymena were staring down the barrel of a total of more than 280. Yet when Holmes was bowled around his legs by Michael Taylor, Carrick’s innings stuttered: only 51 runs came off the last ten overs as Taylor (2-45) and Jack Gibson (2-49) bowled well at the death.

Ballymena were left to chase 232 in 47 overs, not a difficult task on one of the fastest-scoring grounds in Ireland and a task made easier by Taylor and Gibson continuing their form as an opening partnership: Ballymena raced to 43 in the seventh over before Gibson was caught behind for 14.

Taylor and Azeem Ghumman then took the score to 81 before Taylor was lbw sweeping for 43. When Philip Harshaw followed soon afterwards Ballymena were left in the precarious position of 96-3 after half-way.

Ghumman, however, batted on with aplomb and was joined by captain Kennedy. Neither gave a chance during a magnificent unbeaten partnership of 139 for the fourth wicket that saw Ballymena ease home with an over to spare.

Not taking risks against the spin of Kamtekar while taking advantage of Carrick’s weaker bowlers, both batsmen played with great intelligence. Both were severe on any width and – as Carrick heads dropped – the short straight boundaries were targeted ruthlessly.

Kennedy finished not out on 68 from 62 balls (9 fours, two sixes) and Ghumman continued his fine debut season for the club with 92 from 108 balls (12 fours, 1 six).

It is too early to say Ballymena has preserved its Premier League status for another year, but having already beaten the two other clubs - Carrick and Lisburn - locked in the relegation dogfight, the Braidmen must now be considered favourite to survive.