Ballymena began their double-header of Premier League games with a vital win over a strong CIYMS on Friday evening.
This 20-over rearranged fixture turned out to be a tense low-scoring encounter with Ballymena’s sensible batting in the closing overs proving to be the decisive factor.
Ballymena captain Simon McDowell asked the visitors to bat first and his bowlers quickly proved that his decision was the correct one. Michael Glass bowled an admirable spell of 4 overs for just 4 runs and took the crucial wicket of Jeremy Bray. Glass was well supported by Fergus Taylor who also grabbed an early wicket.
When spinners Michael Taylor and Steve Lazars came on they kept the pressure on CIYMS with some accurate bowling. Michael Taylor eventually bowled the dangerous Nathan Waller as the visitors struggled to raise the scoring rate to 3 an over.
Ballymena continued to take wickets in the second half of the innings as only opening batsman Chris Dougherty looked capable of mastering the bowling. In the last 3 overs, Dougherty threw caution to the wind and with some big hitting to took his team to 82 for 8 and his own score to 57 not out.
Ballymena started badly in reply when Yogesh Takawale was bowled for a duck in the first over.However James and David Kennedy kept the run rate moving with some good shots as they took the score to 28, before David Kennedy was adjudged LBW.
Then just as James Kennedy looked to be getting on top of the bowling he mishit a cut shot and was caught at point for 20 to leave Ballymena 42 for 3 in the 9th over.
CIYMS probably sensed that another couple of quick wickets could swing the match their way, but were frustrated by a sensible partnership of 25 Between Steve Lazars and Robert Kennedy. Scoring mostly in singles the pair took the score to 65, at which point Lazars hammered a catch to deep mid-wicket.
However the experienced Kennedy, realising that the scoring rate was was not an issue, continued to bat confidently and sensibly. He and Fergus Taylor brought the scores level at which point Taylor was run out. Fittingly, however, Kennedy pushed the winning single to make sure of a crucial victory for the home side. In fact it was not until the following afternoon that the full significance of this hard-fought win became clear.
After their battling performance on Friday evening, Ballymena’s batsmen struggled to raise their game to the same level when they lost by 10 wickets to Instonians at Shaw’s Bridge on Saturday. Admittedly they were without key batsmen Steve Lazars and Robert McKinley on a wicket that appeared tailor-made for Instonians spin-dominated attack, but the truth was that few of the Ballymena players looked to have the appetite to graft for runs on a bowler-friendly track.
Ballymena won the toss and batted. For the first 6 overs James Kennedy and the promising James McClean looked reasonably comfortable, but once Kennedy was bowled the “wheels came off” the Ballymena innings in spectacular fashion.
Yogesh Takawale, in his last game for the club, played some eye-catching drives in his 25 and along with James Russell, who struck a couple of lusty blows, took Ballymena to 47 for 4. Russell was then caught and he was quickly followed by Takawale, who holed out to wide long-off. The Ballymena tail had no answer to the home team’s spinners and the innings closed on 57.
With no chance of victory, acting Ballymena captain James Kennedy gave youngsters Jack Gibson and Ethan Archer a chance to open the bowling. However Instonians’ openers Layard and Smith, with no pressure on them, were able to hit freely and took their side to victory in just 6.3 overs.
Ballymena’s players were soon able to put their disappointing performance behind them as news of other games started to come through.
Muckamore’s defeat at Lisburn ensured that when next April arrives, Ballymena will play in the Premier League for the seventh successive season – a club record. Great credit for this must go to Ballymena’s squad , which is made up almost entirely of local amateur players, for the way they continue to hold their own in the semi-professional Premier League.
Their season ends at home to Muckamore on Saturday. Ironically this fixture, which looked for so long like being a nail-biting relegation shoot-out, now becomes a meaningless end-of season game. With a couple of players unavailable and some others “carrying” injuries , Ballymena may possibly use the opportunity to blood some younger players.