ARMAGH’S difficulties in Ulster Bank Section Two continued when they lost out to Cooke Collegians at Shaws Bridge at the weekend, when a poor batting performance on a slow pitch left them to too much to do in the field.
With the bottom of the table getting ever tighter the City side still need another win in their three remaining matches. Armagh won the toss and elected to bat first against the high class Cooke Collegians attack but Villiers and Hoey started fairly well before the former was caught.
Hoey and Matthew Steenson looked to rebuild steadily as runs were proving really difficult to come by against good bowling and on a slow outfield. With these factors the Armagh batsmen were forced into taking some extra risks giving several catching chances as Armagh slipped to 94-6. Harry Boyd and Gareth McCarter joined forces in the middle and built the teams biggest partnership of the innings against the home spinners with the former top-scoring with 27 which gave the visitors a hope of raising a defendable target.
Unfortunately, the return of the Cooke seamers brought that resistance to a rapid end taking the remaining four wickets for just one further run with ChanderShekar starring with 4-19 as Armagh were bundled out for 126 in 47.1 overs.
Armagh would need early breakthroughs if they were to have any chance of defending their score but struggled to get this as a combination of bad luck and hard hitting from the batsmen gave Cooke a decent start and brought the runs required to less than a hundred before Harry Doyle got a deserved wicket courtesy of a fine catch by Michael Villiers at point.
Johnny Morton was again proving difficult to get awayand claimed two wickets in quick succession when Shekar’s luck run out as he was caught by Michael Hoey before the same combination claimed the wicket of Kaushir. Cooke Collegians needed a partnership to steady things and got it through the experienced pair of Wilmott and Shukla who added 52 for the 4th wicket in decent time, mainly looking to score off Armagh’s teenage leg-spinner Jordan Wright.
The youngster won the duel though when he tempted Shukla down the pitch when he edged through to McCarter who also broke the wicket to claim the stumping. The edge wasn’t detected but the square-leg umpire confirmed that Shukla was out. Andy Walbran was bowling a tremendously economical spell providing big threat to the batsmen but his replacement Michael Hoey was successful on his very first delivery when he trapped Kala leg before wicket.
Willmott’s stubborn resistance was ended when he was caught by Steenson off Boyd at mid-wicket before Cooke Collegian’s captain and star batsman Richard Johnson curiously entered the fray at number 7 and saw his team home to the winning line with an unbeaten 14 as Cooke scraped home by 4 wickets to take the points.
Armagh captain Gareth McCarter was philosophical after another disappointing batting display had been the main reason for another loss.
He said: “It’s hard to defend scores less than 150 and that’s the task we have been leaving ourselves in the last few weeks. We knew Cooke have a good attack but probably didn’t expect conditions to be just as tough as they were and generally we got out trying to force the issue. They found it just as tough as we did and with a few more runs to play with we might have had a chance but it wasn’t to be. We have slipped into a position in the league where we still need at least one win and lets just hope that it can come next weekend.”
Next weekend Armagh face a double header of league action when they host Saintfield on Saturday then travel to Larne for a rearranged fixture that could decide the fate of both teams in the division.
A few significant milestones have been reached by Armagh players in recent weeks. Michael Villiers passed 2000 1st team runs when he got off the mark at Bangor, while Matthew Steenson passed 1000 runs in the home game against Cooke Collegians.
Stuart Lester made his 100th senior appearance and Michael Hoey took his 50th first team wicket in Saturday’s game. Well done!
Cooke Collegians v Armagh
Armagh 126 all out: H.Boyd 27, M.Steenson 25. C.Shekhar4-19.
Cooke Collegians 127-6: L.Willmott 38, C.Shekhar 31. J.Morton 2-21
Cooke Collegians win by 4 wickets.