ARMAGH kept up their 100% record in Ulster Bank League Section 2 with a convincing 68 run win against Millpark at Banford Green yesterday (Sunday).
Armagh captain Gareth McCarter won the toss and didn’t hesitate in electing to bat first, confident that he had a strong batting order at his disposal and a pitch that looked decent enough to take first use of. The start wasn’t great though when Philip Doyle was unfortunate to be caught on a rebound at midwicket but that brought Gareth Robinson and Michael Villiers together who both batted steadily in partnership, taking singles when available and striking to the boundary with fair regularity despite a soft outfield.
Villiers moved quickly to 50 continuing his superb form in 2013 and it was a surprise when he was dismissed without adding to the half century, scoring 6 boundaries and one huge six. Colin Russell made a welcome return at 4 and looked in dominating form, while Robinson continued to impress in aggressive fashion but falling just 3 shy of what would have been a well-deserved half-century when he was smartly caught on the boundary.
Armagh had decent momentum at this stage and Russell was joined in another strong partnership by Matthew Steenson who was initially content to knock the ball around in a supporting role. Russell looked good, rotating the strike and picking up runs around the ground but fell for 45 when he was eventually caught despite a juggling effort.
At this stage Steenson really started to kick on, striking the ball cleanly and finding gaps in the field as the Armagh run-rate increased and a weary Millpark flagged in the field. Supported by Harry Boyd, Steenson moved past 50 and could potentially have gone further but for being unselfishly run out attempting a second run. Steenson scored 57 including 5 boundaries and a six. Millpark fought back well in the last overs as Smyth, McCarter and Lester looked to score big but couldn’t find the boundary. However Armagh’s final total of 254-8 was a terrific effort.
The Armagh team had spoken about the importance of striking early wickets to dent the Millpark chase and that is exactly what they did more or less straight away as McCrum attempted a tight single to Harry Boyd at point but only succeeding in running out his partner M.Ikram as the throw into McCarter was too quick and accurate.
The over had double joy as the new batsman Talbot spooned a catch to Steenson to give Andrew Smyth a wicket. It got even better for Armagh when the prized wicket of Charles McCrum was claimed in the very next over as he could only guide a Harry Doyle delivery into the hands of Russell in the gully. Doyle was bowling a tremendous spell, tying down the batsmen and allowing few scoring opportunities at all. Dempster was playing a fine defiant knock, punishing any errors in length from Smyth but reluctant to rotate the strike which was costly as Doyle deservedly claimed the wicket of McCart after really working him over. Smyth claimed another scalp in his final over, bowling a beautiful swinging delivery to beat Dempster and remove his off stump.
Glover came and went quickly courtesy of a good Harry Doyle catch off Stuart Lester and Armagh could not have been blamed for thinking that the job was done but not so as recent signing SZ Ali launched into the attack, particularly against Andrew Walbran and then Harry Boyd. Supported well by P.McCart, Ali was playing a fine hand and certainly had a few Armagh fielders worried. Lester struck another crucial blow when he bowled McCart after 78 run partnership to the relief of the Armagh side.
As the run-rate required grew when Boyd’s control improved, the Millpark batting needed to take more chances and Ali took a risk too many, smashing Boyd down the ground but into the safe hands of Steenson who took a fine boundary catch. Harry Doyle returned to clean up McCart in completing a fine ten over spell for only 19 runs and claiming 3 wickets.
As happens so often in Armagh matches though, Andy Walbran had the final say, taking the wicket of Millpark’s captain Maxwell courtesy of another catch from Steenson as Armagh completed an impressive win by 68 runs to stay unbeaten in the league.
After the game Armagh captain Gareth McCarter commented that it had been a “pretty comprehensive performance from the team with 4 of the top 5 batsmen scoring 45 or more and each of the five bowlers taking at least one wicket.
Everyone contributed well and there really is competition for places in the team which can only be great news for Armagh cricket. It was important to bounce back well from last weeks defeat and we have managed that.
A busy week lies ahead for Armagh with a quick return to Millpark on Tuesday night for a T20 Shield encounter. The serious business resumes on Saturday though as the 1st XI travel to Drumaness before hosting Holywood on the Mall on Sunday. Both games start at 1pm.
NCU Section 2 Millpark v Armagh
M.Steenson 57, M.Villiers 50, G.Robinson 47, C.Russell 45. D.Glover 3-43.
Millpark 186 all out
SZ Ali 41, P.McCart 36. H.Doyle 3-19, S.Lester 2-36, A.Smyth 2-46.
Armagh win by 68 runs.