ARMAGH had an up and down weekend with league success on Saturday being followed by a humbling Junior Cup defeat yesterday (Sunday).
Armagh hosted Larne at the Mall on a glorious sunny Saturday with the home team winning the toss and inviting the Section Three champions to bat first on a surface that was a credit to the grounds team, given the sheer amount of rain that had fallen the previous weekend.
Armagh started well with Harry Doyle picking up the wicket of Wilson courtesy of a Robinson catch early on, but Larne battled hard with Baxter playing a few decent shots. The introduction of Stuart Lester and Johnny Morton made a big difference with the pair sharing five wickets that devastated the Larne middle order as the relentless accuracy of their bowling was just too much for the visitors to deal with.
Lester finished with a superb analysis of 3 wickets for just 13 runs in his 10 overs while Morton took the two crucial wickets of Dempsey and Baxter in a restrictive spell of swing bowling. Even though Larne moved beyond the 100 mark with some decent batting from their lower order, the ever-reliable Andrew Walbran made sure that Armagh wouldn’t be chasing a big score as he cleaned up their tail by taking four wickets for 20 runs.
Two were bowled and one was a decent catch behind the stumps for Gareth McCarter but the best was certainly saved for last, as the stoic late resistance of Stanton was ended by a tremendous catch by Andrew Smyth at mid-off to the acclaim of the gathered crowd outside the clubhouse as Larne were 115 all out.
The chase had the potential to be a tricky one but Armagh’s opening pair of Michael Villiers and Matthew Steenson set about their task in tremendous form with a mixture of sound defence and tough punishment of any loose bowling. Steenson in particular was harsh on any bad balls as he scored fluently all around the wicket as Armagh raced along at a terrific scoring rate in an opening stand of 59.
Hunter did claim a breakthrough for Larne as he perhaps slightly fortuitously was awarded an lbw verdict against Steenson who played well for his 35 that contained 6 boundaries. Things didn’t get much easier for the visitors as Gareth Robinson joined Villiers and now the latter took the dominant role in the partnership as he drove the ball to all parts of the Mall.
Larne’s heads seemed to drop as the victory line grew closer and some unlikely bowling changes seemed to make things easier for Armagh as the target was passed courtesy of a wonderful six hit from Robinson who finished with 15. Michael Villiers was unbeaten with an impressive 48* that contained 6 boundaries and 2 sixes as Armagh sealed a comfortable 9 wicket win.
On Sunday Armagh travelled to Gibson Park to take on Cregagh in a rearranged Junior Cup tie with a somewhat weakened side due to a wide range of reasons. The home side were sure to want revenge after Armagh had convincingly beaten them by 9 wickets earlier in the month and had no hesitation in batting after winning the toss.
Cregagh batted well but were restricted by an Armagh side that bowled and fielded with great discipline. Breakthroughs were difficult to come by on a warm day but Andrew Smyth bowled with great pace as he took 3 wickets for 30 runs in a terrific 10 over spell.
David Bullick was proving virtually impossible to score off as Cregagh took very few chances against him given he had destroyed them on The Mall. His 10 over spell yielded no wickets but only went for 15 runs. Cregagh looked to attack Johnny Morton when he entered the attack so Gareth McCarter gambled and introduced the spin of Harry Boyd from the clubhouse end with great reward as he dismissed Walker for a well-played 71.
Bowling in tandem with Andrew Walbran, Armagh really brought themselves into contention with late wickets to restrict the Cregagh score. Boyd finished with four wickets and Walbran with 3 as Cregagh were dismissed for 179.
Armagh had bowled and fielded very well throughout with Gareth McCarter completing three stumpings and some decent outfielding from Morrison, Ryan McCarter and Brownlee in particular. Armagh knew they would have to bat well to reach a challenging target of 180 but no-one could have predicted the carnage that would follow after what was a relatively solid start in the first few overs.
Cregagh’s flying New Zealander Leon Moore bowled with tremendous pace and ripped through the Armagh batting order taking 6 wickets for 41 in an impressive and dominant spell. Only 4 players even reached double figures in what was a dreadful batting display as Armagh were skittled for a mere 74 to give Cregagh a convincing 105 run victory and progression in the Junior Cup where they host Victoria in the next round.
Armagh captain Gareth McCarter commented: “The lack of cricket the team had played this season showed over the weekend with tired bodies a factor in Sunday’s defeat. We did some really good things against Larne and a few sloppy bits and carried that through into the Cregagh game.
“I thought we bowled and fielded very well but the batting just wasn’t up to standard. We might have been understrength but the pitch and opposition didn’t suggest a score of 74 all out in the slightest. It is disappointing to drop out of the Junior Cup again, but we are unbeaten in the league and have to concentrate on that from here on. It’s now about our character and how we bounce back next weekend.”
Next Saturday Armagh do not have a scheduled fixture due to their Junior Cup exit but do face a trip to Millpark on Sunday for a rearranged league game.
Armagh Cricket Club would like to thank David McKennell for ball sponsorship for the Larne game and Colin Graham for the Cregagh match. Members can contact George Breakey for more information on Ball sponsorship in the 2013 season.