North Down survive scare to defeat Ballymena
Alistair Bushe (News Letter)
IF North Down go on to lift the Ulster Bank Challenge Cup later in the summer, they will doubtless reflect on Saturday’s hard-fought 35-run win over Ballymena at The Green with a sense of relief.
Even though they were without a professional, the reigning league champions were still overwhelming favourites to book a safe passage into the last eight against opponents still waiting for their first 50-over victory of the season.
However, this proved to be anything but a routine assignment, and when North Down were 127 for five batting first they were in danger of collapsing in a manner similar to the cup semi-final defeat by Civil Service North on this ground in 2011.
But even after the belligerence of Jonathan Terrett and the precocious talent of teenager Peter Eakin inspired Peter Shields’ side to recover to the relative security of 245 for nine, the stubborn visitors refused to roll over.
Indeed, a 104-run partnership for the third wicket between Kaushik Aphale, the Indian professional, and David Kennedy, led Ballymena to a commanding 115 for two in the 28th over.
In truth it was difficult to envisage a breakthrough on a benign pitch with even North Down’s most reliable bowler, the off-spinner Marty Moreland, having an off-day.
However, the run chase was always going to hinge on how Ballymena would react to losing one of their two best players. They have been unusually brittle in the middle order so far this season and when Kennedy fell, unwisely trying to cut the spin of Ryan Haire for 52, after having hit six fours and two sixes, North Down scented blood.
Andy Kirkpatrick’s stay was brief, although he was unfortunate to be given out lbw after a big stride forward.
Gareth Fisher departing shortly afterwards, lbw after barely moving his feet and after a comical mix-up involving Aphale and William Montgomery, the latter was run out and Ballymena were suddenly, and inexplicably, 146 for six.
Aphale was fast running out of partners and perhaps that explained a rather injudicious reverse sweep off Haire (3-46). North Down appealed vehemently for a catch behind and fully 10 seconds later Noel McCarey, the umpire, belatedly responded with a raised finger.
With their professional gone for 61, the game was up for Ballymena, although a last-wicket stand between Robert Kennedy (23 no) and captain Simon McDowell (30) at least demonstrated that they had not waved the white flag.
North Down were brilliant in the field, the youngsters bringing an energy and dynamism obviously lacking in their ageing opponents, but shorn of Ian Moran and Taimur Khan, their bowling won’t have the penetration of a year ago.
The batting still looks full of runs. Steve Lazars (3-29) confused their middle order, but few teams in this division bat deep enough to make 245 for nine from the perils of 128 for five.
First it was the old guard of Terrett and the captain Shields (32) who stabilised things with an 80-run stand in just 13 overs. Terrett was initially circumspect, scoring just four from his first 23 balls faced, but an over of long-hops from Robert McKinley got him into his stride before he twice sent deliveries from the left-arm seamer Matthew Purse crashing onto the pavilion roof.
Purse conceded 35 from his three overs as North Down pummelled 94 from the last 10 with Terrett hitting 57 from just 54 balls. But even after the left-hander fell there was a sting in the tail as Eakin, just 16-years-old, smashed a fearless unbeaten 20 from only 12 balls, including two sixes over wide long-on in the last over from McDowell.
Waringstown, the cup holders, had a much easier passage into the last eight as Carrickfergus were beaten by seven wickets at The Lawn. Jamie Holmes struck 61 and former captain Ryan Eagleson an unbeaten 37 but Carrick lost their last five wickets for just 20 runs as Kyle McCallan took three for six.
A total of 139 was at least 100 short of par and James Hall, the Waringstown opener, continued his superb start to the season, hitting an unbeaten 79 from only 81 balls, with eight fours and two sixes, as the villagers romped home in 28.2 overs.