Cricketers suffer defeat at hands of title favourites

Ballymena 1st XI lost another home fixture on Saturday when they went down by 5 wickets to an Instonians side who now look favourites to win the Premier League title.

Ballymena cricketers Steve Lazars and Kaushik Aphale watch from the sidelines during their side's innings in Ballymena's weekend defeat by Instonians. INBT 32-927H

As has happened several times this season, Ballymena’s batting was disappointing , the only bright spot being David Kennedy’s fine half-century. When Instonians batted, the Ballymena slow bowling attack made things difficult for them and there is little doubt that, if the home team had scored 30 to 40 more runs, it would have made for a very interesting finish.

Instonians captain Eugene Moleon won the toss and asked Ballymena to bat. With Robert McKinley away on international duty with the Ireland Under 19 side, Michael Taylor opened the batting with James Kennedy. Against a very accurate Instonians opening attack the pair batted sensibly but found runs hard to come by. Indeed at one stage the home team managed only 3 runs in 9 overs and during that spell they lost the vital wickets of Kennedy and Kaushik Aphale to make the score 20 for 2.

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David Kennedy then came to the wicket and immediately began to increase the scoring rate. He was particularly hard on any short bowling as he and Taylor took the score to 44.

At this point Taylor, who had done a reasonable job as makeshift opener, was caught behind for 15. Steve Lazars (11) and William Montgomery (10) helped Kennedy lift Ballymena to 93 for 4, but unfortunately neither was able to stay long enough to turn the tide in Ballymena’s favour.

Once Montgomery was out the innings fell away badly and Ballymena’s hopes of scoring 150 plus ended at 118 for 7, when Kennedy was caught off a skier at backward square-leg. The experienced Kennedy had hit an impressive 51 off 71 balls, with 5 fours, and looked to be back to somewhere near his best.

Apart from Fergus Taylor, who hit an aggressive 15, the Ballymena lower-order struggled to score runs and the innings ended in the 50th over with the total on 127.

When Instonians batted, Fergus Taylor struck an early blow when he had the experienced John Stevenson LBW with the score on 9. Instonians West Indian professional Carleon Brome then joined Neil Russell at the crease and both batted aggressively to tale the score to 40 in 10 overs. Brome played some good drives in front of the wicket , but was fortunate with several lofted shots which could easily have gone to hand.

Ballymena four-man slow bowling attack all bowled well with the result that the Instonians run-rate slowed down remarkably.

Eventually Michael Taylor had Brome well caught by Aphale for 37 and then trapped Russell LBW for 30. Steve Lazars then picked up the wicket of Nicolai Smith and, when Simon McDowell had Ireland player James Shannon caught behind by Neil Fullerton, Instonians were 105 for 5 in the 37th over.

At this stage there was just an outside chance that a nervous-looking Instonians lower-order might struggle to reach 128. However a 50-minute rain break meant that their target score was amended to 117 in 45 overs - this took some of the pressure off the batsmen and, once play resumed, they were able to cross the line without any further alarms.

Not for the first time this season, Ballymena had battled with real spirit in the field in an attempt to compensate for a poor batting dislay.

Michael Taylor finished with 2 for 31 and the other three spinners Aphale, Lazars and Simon McDowell also bowled impressively accurate spells.

Indeed Ballymena’s ability to tie down strong batting line-ups makes their batting shortcomings all the more frustrating – there is little doubt that had Ballymena’s batting had been up to par this season, then they would not be having their current relegation concerns.