ARMAGH’S poor run of recent form in the NCU Section 2 campaign continued when an under par batting performance could not be rescued by some terrific bowling as their hosts Saintfield prevailed by just two wickets at the Demesne in Saturday’s encounter.
Armagh captain Gareth McCarter won the toss and elected to bat at a ground normally renowned for producing terrific conditions for batsmen but the recent rain had left the outfield slow and soft which meant that fluent runscoring was difficult.
Armagh had actually started in confident fashion with Philip Doyle striking a few loose deliveries to the boundary with panache but fell in disappointing fashion slicing a catch to point. Michael Villiers soon fell cheaply and after a small recovery Michael Hoey was unfortunate to fall to a terrific close catch from the livewire South African Woodruff.
Colin Russell and Matthew Steenson looked to try and get a partnership going but with play dubiously continuing through increasingly heavy rain the former was bowled by one that stayed low from home bowler Maguire. Somewhat belatedly the players left the field with the rain not even as heavy as when the wicket fell.
The break was a short one though but there was no change in the procession of wickets falling as Steenson, Boyd and Lester departed without making any great impact as Armagh slumped to 78-7. There was a partial fightback as Gareth McCarter was joined by Harry Doyle and the pair showed some determination to try and build a competitive total for their team with staunch defensive play joined by sensible rotation of the strike when they could.
Bizarrely during a light drizzle of rain the umpires took the players off for an early tea despite there being little or no rain, perhaps out of caution after their earlier costly misjudgement. When the players returned the weather had certainly improved but McCarter and Doyle continued to play the way they had been, taking the score beyond 100 and their stand of 39 was the biggest in the Armagh innings but unfortunately when Doyle edged behind the end came quickly for Armagh as McCarter then Walbran exited soon after leaving Armagh with a meagre score of 118 all out with extras being the highest scorer in a disappointing batting performance.
Armagh knew that if they were going to pull off a stunning win with a small total to defend that they would need to attack and take wickets early on and the start was positive as Sims was easily caught by Lester off Harry Doyle. Matthew Wright opened with terrific speed on his return to the first team and was causing all sorts of difficulties to the batsmen with pace and bounce.
His breakthrough was inspirational though as McCann smashed a drive back straight only for Wright to pluck it cleanly from the air one handed with a sensational catch. Doyle quickly accounted for the buccaneering Woodruff and at 44 for 3 Saintfield were slightly wobbling. It was at this point that Saintfield captain Gareth Harrison came to the crease and played with great assurance from the off, supported by opener Stewart who was living a bit more of a charmed life.
The pair had added 40 when luck went in Armagh’s favour for a change. Harrison aimed a straight drive back at Doyle who had returned for a final decisive burst after a short rest and although the diminutive paceman dropped the chance the ball rebounded onto the stumps leaving Stewart short of his ground and run-out. Armagh sensed an opening and Stuart Lester took out Owens first ball courtesy of a tumbling catch from Villiers at point and then had a massive appeal for lbw against McCavery that was close to say the least. It wasn’t too costly though as Doyle finished off his spell in spectacular fashion with two sensational Yorkers to rip through McCavery and Maguire and give him figures of 4-30.
All along though Harrison had been playing steadily and was still the major obstacle to an Armagh win and although he more or less sacrificed Murray who was run out by an excellent throw from Steenson and dive from McCarter, it proved to be worthwhile as he was on strike to smash two of the next three balls to the boundary to seal a nervy two wicket win for the home team. The winning blow was a maximum six and Harrison finished unbeaten on 46*, certainly the games decisive contribution.
Armagh captain Gareth McCarter was disappointed with another loss but could at least take heart from the spirited performance in the field that so nearly made an unlikely comeback possible. “You don’t win many games with only 118 on the board and it proved to be the case today despite the best efforts of the boys in the field. Big credit has to go to Harry Doyle, Matty Wright and Stuart Lester because they gave us a chance with the ball but yet again the oppositions best player has done the business for his team and won them the game. We just aren’t doing that ourselves with the bat at present but we will just have to keep working and look to improve next week against Academy.”
NCU Section 2
Armagh v Saintfield at the Demesne
Armagh 118 all out D.McCann 3-17, G.Maguire 3-31.
Saintfield 120-8. G.Harrison 46* H.Doyle 4-30.
Saintfield win by 2 wickets
Next weekend Armagh will hope to get back onto the winning track when they host Academy at The Mall. The game starts on Saturday at noon. For all the latest news on Armagh Cricket Club including junior fixtures and midweek league follow @ArmaghCC on Twitter and visit the club website at www.armaghcricketclub.co.uk