Ballymena on course for shock title win
Alistair Bushe (News Letter)
WHEN Ballymena were last NCU champions way back in 1998 they sprung one of the biggest surprises in club cricket. Try as they might to deny it, Simon McDowell’s men are now right in the hunt to repeat that remarkable feat of 14 years ago.
Saturday’s stunning eight-wicket trouncing of North Down at The Green took them joint top of the table and means Ballymena, who started the season with three successive defeats, have now beaten the league champions, Waringstown and Instonians inside the last month.
With a favourable run-in between now and the end of the season, including three of their last five matches at their Eaton Park stronghold, McDowell’s men are bang in contention.
With yesterday’s eagerly-awaited match between Waringstown and North Down postponed after heavy early-morning rain at The Lawn, the league table is totally congested. Ballymena and North Down are joint top but just four points separate the first six clubs, and second-bottom Lisburn also can't be ruled out.
Chasing a not-inconsiderable North Down total of 242 for six, James Kennedy, who has made a significant difference to Ballymena since returning from a year in Sri Lanka, got them off to a fine start with 48, before Kaushik Aphale and David Kennedy ruthlessly added 171 undefeated runs for the third wicket.
Aphale is enjoying his finest season in the NCU game and took his run aggregate well above the 600 mark at an average of more than 80 as he made an unbeaten 109 from just 81 balls. In a typically brilliant display he struck 14 boundaries.
David Kennedy, playing against his former club, was content to play second fiddle to the Indian professional, making a superb 68 not out from 117 balls, including five fours.
North Down’s total owed much to another superb contribution from 17-year-old Peter Eakin. The youngster struck 86 from 98 balls, hitting five fours and two sixes and there was a late cameo from former captain Peter Shields, whose 27 from 19 balls including two fours and a six.
Neil Russell earlier hit 35 and Jonathan Terrett 43 but Michael Glass (2-36) and Steve Lazars (2-34) were both economical for Ballymena.
At the other end of the table Carrickfergus are effectively doomed after Griffin Nieuwoudt inspired Civil Service North to a four-wicket win at Stormont. Jamie Holmes made 80 from 128 balls and Michael Taiaroa 62 from 82 as part of a 119-run stand for the second wicket. Andrew Cowden and Jordan Wilson shared five wickets for CSN though and a total of 206 for seven was certainly not out of sight.
Wayne Horwood (36) and Andrew Cowden (39) provided sturdy support to Nieuwoudt during 60 and 73-run stands for the third and fourth wickets before CSN lost three nine wickets for nine runs to slump to 170 for six.
Nieuwoudt held firm though with an unbeaten 83 from 106 balls, including four fours and three sixes, getting CSN home with 10 balls to spare.