Ballymena defeat Instonians
Alistair Bushe (News Letter)
If anyone is in doubt about the continuing importance of professionals when it comes to winning cricket matches, they should study Ballymena’s crucial NCU Premier League victory over Instonians at Eaton Park on Saturday.
Kaushik Aphale, Ballymena’s Indian pro, almost singlehandedly led the home side to a 28-run victory on Duckworth-Lewis, first claiming incredible figures of four for nine with the ball, before later hitting an unbeaten half-century.
If Aphale’s brilliance looks like keeping Ballymena in the top flight it is the absence of Mick Delaney, Instonians’ Australian fast bowler, that will almost certainly rule the Shaw’s Bridge club out of contention in the title race.
Delaney has returned home to South Australia after suffering a shoulder injury and on the evidence of this defeat, and indeed Friday night’s Twenty20 Cup final loss to Waringstown, the South Australian has left a gaping hole that Instonians simply can’t fill.
That is not to say that the Instonians bowling attack was to blame for this their second league defeat in five matches. Instead, their much-vaunted top order failed to fire on what was a typical Eaton Park pitch.
It was slow and sluggish but there were no demons and any batsman who displayed grit and application would eventually get his rewards.
Unfortunately for the visitors they lost half of their team for just 74 runs, including key players Rory McCann, James Shannon and John Stevenson for a combined total of 24. McCann at least was blameless, the victim of a stunning one-handed catch by Ballymena captain Simon McDowell, but the remainder of the top and middle orders got completely bogged down against Aphale, who was allowed to bowl his 10 overs for just nine runs.
It was left to Andrew White to rebuild the innings and had the lower order showed a little more stomach for the fight, Ireland’s second most-capped international might just have led his team to something around 160.
Instead White watched frustrated from the other end as a succession of players lost patience and rather threw their wickets away. He was eighth man out in the 43rd over, trapped lbw by a delivery that swung back in from the veteran seamer Michael Glass (2-20) after making 37 from 75 balls. Two overs later Inst had been dismissed for just 123 with 23 deliveries unused.
It was at this stage that Instonians rued Delaney’s absence. Eugene Moleon bowled James Kennedy with his third delivery and two overs later David Kennedy shouldered arms and saw his stumps rearranged by the Instonians captain.
Ballymena had lost two of their best batsmen without a run on the board and it took until the sixth over for Robert McKinley to belatedly get the scoreboard moving with a single.
However, without Delaney’s pace and penetration at the other end, Moleon has to shoulder too much of the burden for taking wickets, and on a pitch that suited slow bowlers, between them Ben Wylie, Zach Rushe and White didn’t pose enough questions to the masterful Aphale.
Many a professional would turn up his nose at the perceived difficulties of batting at Eaton Park, but as his remarkable statistics this season underline, Aphale relishes the challenge. He already has more than 550 runs to his name, including six fifties and a century, stunning when you consider this was Ballymena’s first Saturday game in over a month.
When Rushe had McKinley stumped, Ballymena were 25 for three, but Instonians never got a look-in thereafter, as Aphale and Kirkpatrick added 58 for the fourth wicket without breaking sweat. The rain, which had led to a virtual wipe-out of cricket matches across, the country, arrived with Ballymena on 83 for three in the 27th over, and a street ahead on Duckworth-Lewis.
This, their first league win in four matches, has given McDowell’s side crucial breathing space ahead of a two-night match against Lisburn at Wallace Park tonight. Win there and again against winless Carrickfergus on Saturday and Ballymena will already be within touching distance of safety.
As for Instonians, without Delaney it’s difficult to envisage them having the consistency to challenge for the title. The Challenge Cup, with a semi-final to come against Muckamore next Sunday, represents their best chance of silverware.