Ballymena cricketers aim to emulate 2011 exploits as new season begins

BALLYMENA’S First XI cricketers begin the 2012 campaign on Saturday with a difficult trip to The Lawn to face Waringstown.

The Eaton Park side will certainly be hoping to continue their marvellous form of last season, when they finished 3rd in the Ulster Bank Premier League. However the team will be well aware that competition will be even tougher this year as the Premier League has been reduced from 10 teams to 8.

Ballymena are pinning their faith in the squad which did so well in 2011. Basically the line-up remains the same, apart from the fact that experienced all-rounder Carl Williams has departed to play for Lisburn.

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No doubt the local side will be hoping that their strong and experienced batting line-up can repeat their consistent performances of last season. Kaushik Aphale, David Kennedy, Andy Kirkpatrick and Robert Kennedy all had fine seasons and captain Simon McDowell will be hoping that Steve Lazars, Gareth Fisher and Robert McKinley chip in with useful runs as well. And with James Kennedy set to return from Sri Lanka in June , Ballymena will be disappointed if they fail to make competitive totals consistently.

Last season the bowlers thrived on the fact that they had good totals to defend and Simon McDowell will no doubt be hoping that they can repeat their accuracy and consistency. Two teenage bowlers Robert McKinley and Fergus Taylor had very promising first seasons in Premier League cricket in 2011 and, if they continue to improve, should form a very useful seam attack with the experienced Michael Glass.

The spin bowling line-up of McDowell, Aphale and Lazars was a key part of last year’s success and once again Ballymena will hope that their accuracy will make run-scoring difficult for opposition sides. And if wickets turn out to be helpful to spin Lazars has the potential to be a match-winner, if he can bring discipline to his undoubted talents.

Ballymena proved last season that a settled side and good team spirit can be more effective than a group of talented individuals. However it may be expecting too much for the Eaton Park side to match their outstanding 3rd place of last season after they had been tipped as relegation favourites.

Indeed, skipper Simon McDowell insists: “We have a tough start to the season in both league and cup competitions and with the Premier League down to 8 teams this year I think our primary aim for the season is to avoid relegation.

“I think each side in the PL is capable of beating each other so it could be very open at both ends of the table although I think North Down and Waringstown will start as favourites.”

This current Ballymena side are certainly overdue a good cup run but, not for the first time in recent seasons, the cup draws have not been kind. Ballymena have been drawn against North Down in the NCU Senior Cup and in the Bob Kerr Irish Senior Cup will face a home tie against the talented Merrion side from Dublin. Certainly the Eaton Park men will have to be at their best to progress in either competition.