Back to the drawing board as cricketers slump to defeat
After their great win against Waringstown the previous week, Ballymena First XI came back to earth with a bump on Saturday when they lost at home to Lurgan by two wickets.
While credit must go to the Ballymena players for putting up a really courageous battling performance in the closing overs, the fact remains that for large parts of the game both their batting and bowling was uninspired.
Lurgan captain Stephen Johnson won the toss and, perhaps surprisingly, asked the home team to bat.
In the event, his gamble paid off as , initially, his seam bowlers and then slow bowler Paul Stafford bowled accurately and intelligently to make run scoring difficult on the slow wicket.
Ballymena’s openers William Montgomery and James Kennedy once again were dismissed cheaply and with David Kennedy clearly out of touch the Eaton Park side crawled to 41 for 3 after 22 overs.
Then, as they had done against Waringstown, KaushikAphale and Steve Lazars put together a substantial partnership which looked as if it might turn the game Ballymena’s way.
They had taken the score to 89, when Aphale, who had reached 40 without ever being able to really cut loose, was dismissed in fairly ‘soft’ fashion, flicking off –spinner Andrew Bingham straight to mid-on. Lazars was then caught behind for a useful 31 and when Rob McKinley was caught on the boundary, the score was 119 for 6 after 42 overs.
Fergus Taylor and Robert Kennedy then produced the most positive batting of the innings as they added 62 in eight overs to bring Ballymena’s final total to 181 for 6 in 50 overs.
Kennedy, hitting the ball really crisply in front of the wicket, hammered 3 fours and a six on his way to 38 not out, off only 24 balls. He was well supported by Taylor whose unbeaten 28 came off 36 balls.
At the tea interval Ballymena must have felt that they had set a fairly stiff target of 182 on a wicket where run-scoring was clearly difficult against tight bowling.
Unfortunately the home team virtually gifted Lurgan a flying start. Opening bowlers Michael Glass and Lazars struggled to find their length and line andLurgan’s opening batsmen, Johnson and Niranjan Godbole, took full advantage as they plundered 50 from the first seven overs.
Aphale eventually bowled Johnson for 37 and Ballymena did then manage to slow the run-rate down, thanks mainly to good bowling by Simon McDowell (1 for 27 in 10 overs) and Fergus Taylor (1 for 15 in 7 overs).
McDowell took a fine caught and bowled to remove Godbole for 55 but Lurgan still looked to be coasting to an easy victory at 151 for 2 after 38 overs.
The visitors needed only 31 from 12 overs, but at this stage the Ballymena team suddenly produced their best spell of the game to set up an unexpectedly close finish. Lazars came back into the attack to pick up three wickets and then two outstanding catches by McKinley and Fergus Taylor made things even more tense for aLurgan side that was suddenly finding run-scoring very difficult.
The visitors needed only 8 from the last 5 overs but could manage only singles against some ultra-keen Ballymena bowling and fielding.
Indeed there were only two balls left in the 50th over, when James McCollum pushed the winning single off the persevering McKinley. And even that was not without controversy, as several Ballymena fielders seemed convinced that McCollum had been narrowly run out as he sprinted the winning run.
The Ballymena players are well aware that some big performances are needed in the weeks ahead if the team is to hold on to its Premier League status.
On Saturday the Eaton Park side travel to Belmont to face 2012 league champions CIYMS.
The Belfast side have lost some of their better players from last season and will certainly not retain their title. However they will still provide stiff opposition for a Ballymena team that is clearly struggling to find consistency with both bat and ball.