However, on a day when the high temperatures suggested that it was an ideal opportunity to bat first and set a high target, Ballymena’s batting was largely unimpressive and their 176 score never looked like being enough to challenge the strong Instonians side, who ended up convincing winners by seven wickets.
James Kennedy won the toss and not surprisingly took first use of what looked to be a good batting track.
Unfortunately for Ballymena there was just a little bit of early lift and movement in the wicket and Instonians’ three talented seam bowlers Moleon, Smith and Brome took advantage to pick up a wicket each as William Montgomery, James and David Kennedy all fell to catches behind the wicket on the off-side.
At 24 for 3, the alarm bells were ringing for the Eaton Park side, but a fine partnership of 92 between Kaushik Aphale and Steve Lazars then seemed to turn the game in Ballymena’s favour. After seeing off the Instonians seamers, Lazars, in particular, seemed to take a liking to Irish international off-spinners Andrew White and James Shannon and hit both of them for several boundaries. The pair seemed in little difficulty and had taken Ballymena’s total to 114 when Lazars lost his wicket to a questionable LBW decision. The little left-hander had played really well, striking 8 attractive boundaries in his 43.
Aphale was more restrained but, just as he seemed to be setting himself up for an acceleration in the last 10 overs, he was caught behind off Brome for a well–made 50, which contained 4 fours.
Gareth Fisher hit a typically forceful 15 but his dismissal seemed to trigger panic stations in the Ballymena lower-order and some poor shots were played as the score went from 172 for 6 to 176 all out.
Even more frustrating from a Ballymena viewpoint was the fact that they had been bowled out in 43.1 overs. This meant almost 7 overs went unused – a rare occurrence for teams batting first in Premier League games. Certainly it is a problem the Eaton Park side needs to overcome if they want to give themselves a chance of winning games at this level.
When Instonians batted, Ballymena knew that early wickets were crucial. However the early signs were not good ; Michael Glass seemed to have trouble getting his line right and then, even more worryingly, Robert McKinley, after bowling 3 wides in his first over, pulled up in his second over with what appeared to a severe hamstring tear. Fergus Taylor, who replaced him, proved expensive but did produce one fine delivery to clean bowl dangerman Neil Russell.
The best Ballymena bowling came from the slow left-arm of Steve Lazars. He appeared to find a bit of turn and his variations caused problems for all the opposition top-order. He had John Stevenson caught at the wicket for 28 and then picked up the prize wicket of White, smartly stumped by Robert Kennedy for a duck.
This left the score at 76 for 3 and gave Ballymena the faint hope that another couple of quick wickets might give them an outside chance.
However that hope quickly faded as Shannon and South African Irish passport-holder Nicoli Smith quickly got on top of an attack that, apart from Lazars, seemed to offer little threat. The pair put on an unbroken stand of 102 with some attractive strokeplay and both reached their half-centuries just before Instonians completed a convincing seven–wicket win , with 18 overs to spare.
Ballymena take a break from competitive action this week-end.
The quarter-finals of the Ulster Bank Senior Cup are being played, and Ballymena’s exit in the previous round means they will play no part. The team return to league action on Saturday week with a trip to Stormont to face CSNI.