Eaton Park captain relishing start of new cricket season

BALLYMENA Cricket Club First XI captain James Kennedy is relishing the task of once again giving some of this country's biggest clubs a few bloody noses when the Northern Cricket Union season swings into action this weekend.

The Braidmen comfortably survived their first campaign back in the top flight of Ulster cricket last season but Kennedy is not seeking spectacular progress.

"Our first goal again will be purely to stay up," James told Times Sport.

"We managed it fairly comfortably last year and I believe we look stronger this season.

"Ideally we would like to finish mid-table or higher and maybe throw a cup run together.

"We lost seven matches last season in the final over and if we had won some of those, we would have been comfortably in the top half of the table.

"Now that we know a bit more of what the Premier League is about, hopefully if we're in those tight situations again, we can turn a few of them into wins."

Ballymena have strengthened their panel by recruiting Indian professional Kaushik Aphale, who was a prodigious run scorer during a two-year stint with Derriaghy.

"One of the great things about Kaushik is that he is already proven at this level and he will really strengthen our batting.

"He has been at home playing first class cricket in India and he arrives here on Wednesday. He will almost literally step off a plane and into a 20/20 warm-up match we've arranged against Muckamore at Eaton Park."

Ballymena have also signed wicketkeeper/batsman Andrew Kirkpatrick from Woodvale and they will need all their firepower at their disposal as they open the campaign at Instonians - last season's joint league winners and Senior Cup champions - this Saturday.

"It's hard to imagine a tougher start but we're not in bad shape and we will give it a really good go," added James.

The arrival of Kirkpatrick behind the stumps has seen veteran wicketkeeper Neil Fullerton - the most successful captain in the club's history after leading them to the Section One title and Irish Senior Cup final in 1998 - step down to the Second XI, whom he will captain.

"It's very much the end of an era for the club. Of all the captains I have played under, both here and when I was living in England, Fullers was the best, both on the pitch and in the changing room.

"I will personally miss his help and advice and there will be no better man for bringing on the young players in the Seconds.

Andrew Lytle continues to captain the Thirds, while Colin McClean will once again be in charge of the Fourth XI.