Thirds win on long-awaited return to action

BALLYMENA Thirds played a league game for the first time in over a month on Saturday and recorded a comfortable win over Lisburn III.

Ballymena went into the match with a strong batting line up and so decided to bat after winning the toss, in the hope of posting an imposing total.

Long time third xi captain Andy Lytle, back on holiday from France was playing in his only match of the summer and opened the batting with Michael Caithness. He struck a couple of crisp boundaries and looked in good touch before falling victim to a very sharp catch by Lisburn’s wicketkeeper, who leapt up to hold onto a flying top edge.

David Montgomery came to the crease, soon joined by Peter Gregg after Caithness mistimed a pull shot to square leg. The two new batsmen proceeded to build a partnership, playing circumspectly at first, before starting to accelerate with some strong leg side hitting when the bowling was too short. Gregg hit one huge six, at least 15-20 yards beyond the boundary rope.

Ballymena were starting to look comfortable when Gregg, on 18, played on to a ball that kept low. This brought Ryan Crooks to the crease, who played a short and sweet innings. He hit his first two balls for four, smashed another four the next over and then was bowled for 12.

When Montgomery mistimed one off Lisburn’s spinner to be out for 15 in the 20th over, the Ballymena innings stood at 85 for 5.

New batsmen, John Nicholl andn Paul Campbell soon began to cut loose in the last 10 overs of the 30, and Lisburn struggled to stem the flow of boundaries. Campbell struck five 4s and a 6 in an aggressive innings before he was bowled for a well made 32.

By this time though the score was 160 with Nicholl going well at the other end. Pete Gillespie arrived and ran well, turning the strike over to allow the established batsman to continue

scoring quickly. Nicholl went to his 50 in the final over, finishing 52 not out having struck four 4s, two 6s and turned several 1s into 2s with

positive running. It was a great innings for a batsman making his first visit to the middle this summer. 181 was a very good total against what was not a bad Lisburn attack.

The last ten overs of the innings made the difference, when Campbell and Nicholl began to attack the spinner and put the fielders under the pressure, but the early partnership between Montgomery and Gregg was also important in laying a good foundation for the more aggressive batting later.

With a big score to chase, scoreboard pressure was always going to be a problem for Lisburn.

Frazer gave Ballymena a good start, taking a wicket

with the first ball of the innings. However Lisburn played positively for the first 6 overs and although Andy Craig bowled well and came close to a breakthrough with several deliveries, with the score at 30 for 1 Ballymena could not yet feel confident they were in a winning position. A change of bowling brought spin on at both ends, and forcing the Lisburn batsmen to wait for the ball and manufacture the pace themselves seemed to do the trick.

Caithness struck with his second ball as Lisburn’s no 3 lobbed a catch up. Then Ballymena had a stroke of luck as a strong drive by the batsman brushed Caithness’ fingers and cannoned into the stumps, running out the non striker who had left his crease in anticipation of a run.

When spinner no 2 Campbell struck in his first over, with another catch spooned up into the offside, Lisburn were 4 down and close to being out of contention.

Caithness took the fifth wicket in his 2nd over; again a catch floated up by a batsman deceived in the flight, and with the score still in the 30s it was now a question of how soon Lisburn would be bowled out.

The longest partnership of the innings began but the scoring rate remained slow and Ballymena’s total was safe as Caithness and Campbell bowled in tandem. Campbell was very economical and picked up wickets 6 and 7 in his last two overs to finish with 6 overs 3 for 11. Caithness also recorded good figures of 6 overs 2 for 19.

With the score 50 odd and 7 wickets down Andy Lytle came out from behind the stumps to continue the slow bowling strategy and he tempted Lisburn’s no7 into a mistimed drive to record a wicket maiden and leave his season’s bowling analysis at 1 over-1wicket 0 runs, which should be a difficult average to beat.

Adam Pogue came on to provide more flighted spin and picked up the final 2 wickets to bowl Lisburn out for 66, 115 runs short of the target.

An encouraging victory for Ballymena leaves them with 3 wins out of 6 in the league, ahead of the away game to Woodvale next weekend.

Andy Lytle will have returned to France by then, but his captaincy experience and knowledge of field settings was a big plus on Saturday in what

was the Thirds’ best fielding performance of the season so far.