Ballymena 1st XI started their Ulster Bank Premier League campaign on Saturday with a difficult trip to Comber to face North Down.
Although they lost by 42 runs, Ballymena will be heartened by their encouraging batting display in reply to a huge total of 301 from the hosts.
The home team won the toss and batted on a good wicket and fast outfield. Openers Graham (90) and Sutherland (57) put on 149 runs in a 29-over opening stand and with the experienced Taimur Khan weighing in with a hard –hit 49, a large total became inevitable.
Ballymena’s bowlers toiled away manfully and with commendable accuracy – only 4 wides were bowled in the entire innings. Best of the bowlers was the ageless Michael Glass who bowled a decent 6-over opening spell for only 22 runs and then returned late in the innings to pick up 2 wickets. And Ballymena will be encouraged that their new Pakistani professional Azeem Ghumman, who, although he was recruited essentially for his batting, bowled 10 accurate overs of leg-spin and picked up a wicket.
Chasing a huge 302 target, Ballymena made a highly encouraging batting reply. James Kennedy (27) and Michael Taylor (21) gave the team a solid start with an opening stand of 43 in 11 overs. Then 14-year-old John Glass, given an opportunity to bat at No 4, looked confident and composed and was a touch unfortunate to be dismissed caught and bowled just as he was starting to attack the bowling.
This left Ballymena 67 for 3 after 20 overs, at which point Steve Lazars joined Azeem Ghumman at the crease. Initially they struggled to score quickly against some accurate North Down bowling, but they gradually got on top. Lazars in particular hit some typically well-timed boundary shots while Ghumman, playing an intelligent second foil role, kept accumulating at the other end.
However , with Ballymena needing to score at almost 12 an over for the last 7 overs, Lazars eventually perished bravely, caught on the long-on boundary for a superb 91.
The pair had put on 150 in only 22 overs, but soon afterwards Ballymena’s last chance of an unlikely victory ended when Ghumman was also caught in the deep going for a big hit. His 73 from 93 balls contained 6 fours and represented a very solid start to his Ballymena career.
To Ballymena’s credit, they kept going for their shots right to the last over, with William Montgomery hitting 3 fours and a six in his quickfire 22 not out.
They finished 43 runs of victory but will take a lot of encouragement from a fighting display with the bat – secure in the knowledge that 259 would be enough to win most games in Premier League cricket.