Waringstown open their season with resounding win over Ballymena
Alistair Bushe (News Letter)
AT first glance it appears that Waringstown got their Ulster Bank Premier League season off to the most resounding of starts at home to Ballymena on Saturday.
The villagers won by seven wickets, with almost 14 overs to spare, as they chased a target of 214, so you might assume that the Challenge Cup and Irish Cup holders barely had to break sweat at The Lawn.
But appearances, and scorelines, can sometimes be deceptive. This was no walk in the park for Kyle McCallan’s men, at least not in the field, where they were ragged for much of the 47.3 overs that Ballymena batted.
After being inserted by McCallan on a pitch tinged with green, Steve Lazars (45) and Robert McKinley (30), Ballymena's opening batsmen, might have expected an arduous examination in apparently seamer-friendly conditions. Instead, they feasted on loose bowling and shoddy fielding to race to 91 without loss in the 18th over.
Lazars, the stylish Indian-born left-hander, had just taken Gary Kidd for two sixes when he ambitiously attempted a third. James Hall, running in down the slope in front of the pavilion, took a stunning catch. As moments in cricket matches go, this was a game-changing one, as Waringstown, all shoulders hunched and heads down, suddenly rediscovered their mojo.
David Kennedy, Ballymena’s talisman, followed in the same over, plumb lbw shuffling across his crease, the second of four wickets to fall for just 25 runs as the momentum shifted decisively in favour of the home side.
Even then, Ballymena still had the opportunity to build something substantial on a now placid pitch. Kaushik Aphale played his typical innings, manipulating the spinners almost at will, in a fifth-wicket stand of 39 with Gareth Fisher, but once the latter was lbw to Hall for 18 and then Robert Kennedy edged the same bowler to wicketkeeper Jonathan Bushe, a target score of around 260 was fast disappearing over the horizon.
Aphale was ninth man out for 59 from 76 balls, caught on the boundary off Waringstown’s new professional Glen Addicott, the one member of the villagers’ injury-hit seam attack who presented anything like a test for the visitors. The home side’s spinners were also not at their best with the exception of McCallan who took three for 24.
The standard cricketing cliché is to claim that anything over 200 on the first day of the season represents a demanding target, but the reality here was different. Ballymena were at least 60 runs short, especially with a bowling attack that looked even less threatening than Waringstown’s.
Simon Harrison pulled the first ball of the innings for four, and that set the tone as it quickly became clear that it wasn’t a matter of if the villagers would reach the target, but when.
The biggest surprise is that Ballymena actually managed to take three wickets. Harrison was lbw to Aphale to end a superb 59-run opening stand with Hall, who batted probably as well as he has in several seasons. Back was the trademark powerful driving straight down the ground and over the top and he was equally dismissive of anything short.
The Ireland international was eventually stumped in the 23rd over after dragging his back foot outside the crease, but only after pummelling 66 from only 65 balls, including six fours and two sixes.
The first three Waringstown partnerships all realised at least 50 runs, with Lee Nelson continuing from where he left off last season with an unbeaten 60 from 72 balls, including seven fours and two sixes, and McCallan’s 27 was only cut short by a brilliant McKinley caught and bowled.
The home support were then treated to a 13-minute cameo from Addicott and if this was his audition for the title of 'Obus Pienaar mark two', it was a pretty impressive one. Nowhere near as tall as his predecessor but powerfully built, the initial impression is that Addicott will hit the ball just as far. He struck three sixes and two fours in an unbeaten 30 from just 16 balls, with one maximum sailing absurdly far over the long-off boundary.
We didn’t learn anything new about Ballymena. It will most likely be a battle for survival that will be won or lost at their Eaton Park stronghold. There will be plenty of runs in this side, but the bowlers, like Waringstown’s, will have to do better. Twenty overs of power-play offer predominantly spin attacks like theirs no favours.