Ballymena’s cricketers were defeated by reigning league champions Instonians on Saturday past, losing to the Belfast outfit by six wickets at Shaw’s Bridge, which remains the only venue in NCU cricket at which Ballymena have not won a league match.
Having won the toss and chosen to bat on a good cricket pitch, James Kennedy’s men were soon in deep trouble at 13-3 as James McClean, Azeem Ghumman, and Steve Lazars all fell cheaply to left-arm spinner Zach Rushe.
Ghumman and Lazars will be disappointed with their dismissals, playing poor shots to short deliveries, but nobody was more guilty of throwing away his wicket than Michael Taylor, who got a soft leading edge to full toss – also from Rushe – to leave Ballymena at 33-4.
From here, however, captain Kennedy played one of his better innings in several years, making 68, and with capable support from 2nd XI captain Stephen Colgan and Philip Harshaw he rescued Ballymena from a potentially calamitous situation.
Even so the Braidmen probably should have made more than their eventual total of 147 but Kennedy – who was ninth man out – lost his partners in the lower order to some careless shots and extremely poor running between the wickets.
In pursuit of early wickets, Matthew Purse struck for Ballymena, dismissing Eric Layard in the second over, but Instonians captain Neil Russell launched a violent attack on the Ballymena bowlers, hitting five sixes, several of which went into the adjacent River Lagan.
Russell eventually fell for 86 when Harshaw took a fine running catch on the mid-wicket boundary, and Ballymena were offered some hope when Nicolai Smith played on to Fergus Taylor.
The Irish international pair of Andrew White and James Shannon, however, took the home side to safety, but not before the latter, the form player in NCU club cricket, was dismissed by a beauty of a delivery from Jack Gibson.