ARMAGH sealed their safety in NCU Section 2 with a wonderful weekend when they beat third placed Saintfield and fellow strugglers Larne with convincing performances that have been missing over the past few weeks.
Saturday saw Saintfield visit the Mall still with mathematical possibilities of catching the top two teams in the division so certainly wouldn’t be doing the Armagh side any favours. Armagh batted first but got off to a poor start with Michael Hoey and Matthew Steenson both dismissed lbw early on. Michael Villiers looked to rebuild with Colin Russell but the former ran out of patience and was caught.
Russell looked in good touch, scoring around the ground and added 45 for the 4th wicket with Harry Boyd who gave decent support before both he and Duncan Steed were dismissed during the last over of Darren McCann’s spin. Russell needed support and he found a willing ally in Armagh captain Gareth McCarter as they added 49 runs in decent time as Russell moved beyond 50 and playing wonderfully well.
McCarter’s exit caused another collapse but to the delight of his teammates, Russell was able to complete a terrific century with a push into the covers for a single. Another boundary from the final ball of the innings saw Colin Russell finish unbeaten on 107 that contained 13 fours and one massive six. Armagh’s final total was a more than competitive 171-9 from their 50 overs.
Armagh knew they would have to bowl well to contain a high class Saintfield batting lineup and they struck an early blow when the hapless Owens was caught behind in the first over off Matthew Wright. The opening pair of Wright and Johnny Morton were proving difficult to score off and the pace and bounce of Wright claimed a second victim when Darren McCann gave McCarter a second catch behind the stumps. Morton got into the act with a massive scalp as his late swing accounted for the prize wicket of Saintfield captain Gareth Harrison who was clean bowled.
Wright’s wonderful spell continued when he got a ball to straighten and trap McCavery leg before wicket and when Morton clean bowled the dangerous Woodruff the Armagh team were in dreamland. A Saintfieldfightback was inevitable and it was led by wicketkeeper-batsman Derek McCann who showed fighting spirit and no little skill but didn’t receive anywhere near enough support as Andy Walbran claimed two wickets and then Duncan Steed took the last three in an eventful display of swing bowling, the final blow being struck when McCann lobbed a return chance that was wonderfully held by the diving Steed. Armagh came out on top in a keenly-contested match by the margin of 43 runs and took a massive step towards securing their survival in Section Two for the next season.
Armagh v Saintfield
Armagh 171-9: C.Russell 107not out.
Saintfield 128 all out: De.McCann 43. D.Steed 3-25, M.Wright 3-42.
Armagh win by 43 runs.
On Sunday Armagh travelled to Larne knowing that a win would mathematically guarantee their survival in Section 2 for the 2014 season but would also more than likely condemn their hosts to the drop. Larne captain Gareth Gaw won the toss and invited Armagh to bat first on a green wicket with a long outfield that would surely make runscoring difficult.
Armagh started steadily with Michael Hoey and Michael Villiers looking steady but again the luckless Hoey fell when he was beginning to look more assured as an attempted pull hit his pad and then the stumps. Undeterred, Matthew Steenson joined Villiers and the two built a strong stand, built on sensible cricket, good running and some powerful hitting, especially from Steenson who looked in impressive form. The pair passed drinks and the hundred mark for the loss of just one wicket as Steenson went to his half century before being trapped lbw to Alexander for 57 that contained 7 boundaries and a partnership of 86.
Russell joined the steady Villiers who had dropped anchor but the trend of steady scoring continued with the good ball being respected and both players looking to score when they could. Another fifty stand came and went with Russell looking effortless at the crease as he moved in the twenties and everyone in the ground seemed shocked when he slapped Larne’s seventh bowler Baxter straight to point from the first ball on his spell, departing for 28 and ending a good partnership of 64.
Villiers had passed fifty by this stage but looked like he wouldn’t receive much support in the closing overs as Armagh lost another four wickets cheaply in the push for quick runs with 169-2 collapsing to 187-7 with Baxter having stunning figures of 4-7 after two overs. Thankfully Villiers found a capable companion in his captain Gareth McCarter as the pair batted well through the closing overs with strong hitting and brisk running a feature with a particular highlight being a majestic six hit from Villiers over cover as the Armagh innings finished with a stand of 41 that took their score to 228-7 from their fifty overs with Michael Villiers achieving the terrific feat of being unbeaten through the entire innings and finishing with 83 not out in the process. The tough outfield ensured that he only struck four boundaries as well as the wonderful six but the splendid batting effort led by Steenson and Villiers ensured that Larne really had their work cut out.
Larne’s response began well as Gareth Alexander and Johnny Baxter looked in good form against Armagh’s opening pair of Harry Doyle and Andrew Smyth. Baxter in particular was aggressive but it was his partner who fell first as he could only top edge a bouncer straight back to Smyth who gratefully accepted.
Another scalp came quickly as Keenan rashly chased a wide delivery and edged behind to McCarter who made no mistake. Armagh’s fielding proved to be the difference as Baxter fell to an excellently judged high catch by Stuart Lester off Smyth and the same bowler had his fourth success when a short delivery was smashed by T.Dempsey to the leaping Harry Boyd at mid-wicket who took an absolute screamer of a catch. Smyth finished his spell with strong figures of 4-38 from his ten overs.
Andy Walbran got into the act quickly after replacing Doyle taking a wicket in his first over when he trapped C.Dempsey leg before wicket with a great ball. Wickets continued to fall when Singh was smartly stumped by McCarter off Walbran and Weatherhead was given out lbw when he completely misjudged a spinner from Harry Boyd.
When Walbran took another two wickets of Stanton and McKinley the end seemed close but Armagh hadn’t counted on some stubborn resistance from Larne’s captain Gareth Gaw and their stoic number 11 batsman J.Krihrose. The pair survived over 17 overs with the sole intention of improving their sides net run rate in the event of a tie at the bottom of the table and while they deserve immense credit for doing so it didn’t really make for entertaining cricket. Walbran, Boyd and Hoey toiled earnestly to try and claim the elusive tenth wicket but that honour fell to Stuart Lester who got one to swing just enough to creep through and bowl Gaw who deserved his score of 35. Armagh were more than good value for their win though and the margin of 90 runs showed their superiority on the day as Section 2 cricket was guaranteed for the 2014 season.
Larne v Armagh.
Armagh 228-7: M.Villiers 83not out, M.Steenson 57. J.Baxter 4-33.
Larne 138 all out: G.Gaw 35. A.Walbran4-22 A.Smyth 4-38
Armagh won by 90 runs.
After the weekend’s fixtures a delighted Armagh captain Gareth McCarter was happy with a good weekends work from his team as they made sure of their place in NCU Section 2 for next season.
He said: “There were certainly times when we were looking at the league table and the fixtures and were nervous about our prospects but this weekend showed what we are capable of as a team led by strong individual performances. The win against Saintfield was a brilliant one led by the magnificent batting of CollyRussell with his century but it just showed that if people dig in and support the player in form with partnerships then you can get a defendable score. We have made good efforts at Cooke and Bangor at defending scores in the 120s but this weekend we had 171 and 228 to work with and it makes some difference to everything.
“Our bowling and fielding against Saintfield was tremendous led by Matthew Wright but supported brilliantly by Johnny Morton who has such a bright future ahead of him. Our spirit throughout was great and even when they fought back we could call on Duncan Steed to finish the job for us. Larne was a different sort of win but again it was built on good batting with Michael Villiers and Matthew Steenson quite superb. We maybe weren’t as sharp with the ball but we took our chances in the field with some great catches and both Andy Walbran and Andrew Smyth deserve great credit for their four wicket hauls and it was another tremendous win by a comfortable margin.”
Armagh would like to thank their matchball sponsors Phil Homan and Roger Rountree for their generous support for the weekend games. This weekend Armagh end their season against Academy at the picturesque Castle Grounds. Nothing much is at stake for Armagh with survival now guaranteed, but Academy are still fighting relegation and the city side will certainly do their best to be fair to the other teams at the bottom.
Saturday’s game begins at 11.30am.