Armagh suffered a devastating blow to their Robinson Services Premier League survival hopes over the weekend as they lost convincingly on the Mall to both Muckamore and Instonians leaving any faint hopes of survival merely that.
Muckamore were the guests on the glorious Mall on Saturday and unsurprisingly chose to bat first on a superb looking wicket prepared by the grounds team.
The Antrim based visitors are the only team beaten by Armagh this season but had strengthen their side from that opening day reverse.
Even though Armagh struck early when Doyle had Gordon caught behind by McCarter, the scoring rate was never really under control as Muckamore plundered loose bowling.
Only Neil Gelston showed any measure of control as the runs flowed.
In all four Muckamore batsmen passed their half-century with professional Iqbal looking assured and wicketkeeper Magowan particularly dynamic in the closing overs striking the ball all around the ground.
The final Muckamore total was 308-8 in their fifty overs and it would take some chase for Armagh to surpass it.
Doyle and Matthew Wright ended up with two wickets each but in truth Armagh will be annoyed with their efforts.
A good start was essential for Armagh to have much chance of a successful chase and it wasn’t really delivered when Gelston departed early.
Jamie Rogers looked to rebuild with professional Shadley van Schalkwyk and both looked in reasonable touch before the former was caught behind for 25.
Colin Russell fresh from last week’s history-making success departed early bringing captain Matthew Steenson into the action.
Van Schalkwyk was looking in dominant form and found a willing ally in rotating the strike and scoring well.
Unfortunately for Armagh just as any partnership seemed to be growing the batsman supporting Van Schalkwyk got out with wickets falling fairly regularly.
Michael Hoey provided some much needed stability allowing Van Schalkwyk to bring up a superb century and really keep Armagh in the mix.
The all-out attack from the South African star was captivating the Mall crowd as the target grew nearer.
Disaster struck though as Hoey was stumped and then with partners running out Van Schalkwyk was finally dismissed for an epic innings 142, receiving a well-deserved standing ovation when leaving the field from both sets of supporters.
His innings contained 16 boundaries and two sixes and is the highest score in the NCU Premier league this season as well as being the second highest in Armagh history.
With minimal support on offer though the home side lost out by a margin of 55 runs.
Relegation looms following defeat to Instonians on Sunday
Sunday on the Mall saw Instonians as the guests and when their captain Andrew White won the toss he had no hesitation in batting first.
After a relatively quiet start in the first few overs there followed a complete blitz from the visitors opening bat Jordan McClurkin who launched into one of the cleanest displays of striking seen on the Mall in years.
With decent support from his young opening partner Metcalfe who in truth rode his luck and was missed on several occasions by the deflated Armagh fielders.
McClurkin reached a quite magnificent century which contained 15 boundaries and 7 big sixes.
To their credit, Armagh did battle back with Lester removing Metcalfe caught by Boyd before Michael Hoey finally beat the bat of McClurkin and Gareth McCarter completed a stumping.
Northern Knights and Ireland Wolves player Shane Getkate departed quickly thanks to a wonderful caught and bowled dismissal from Matthew Wright but the new pair of McKinley and his captain White were able to rebuild with good running between wickets and Whites trademark reverse sweeps a feature.
Hoey claimed another two quick wickets with McKinley caught at the wicket before holding an easy catch off his own bowling.
Gelston fought back from the earlier blitz to take two wickets as did Doyle, including the important one of White for 57.
When Van Schalkwyk took the final wicket to dismiss Instonians for 281 it represented a good enough effort for Armagh who were staring down the barrel of a colossal score at one stage.
For those efforts to count though it would take a good batting display and unfortunately for the second day in a row it wasn’t really delivered as wickets fell regularly.
Of the top order only really Gelston was unfortunate as he was brilliantly run out but the other batsmen were largely responsible for their demises.
Again Van Schalkwyk was left ploughing a lone furrow and while victory was never on the cards from an early stage he was doing all he could to stave off defeat.
Only tailenders McCarter and Wright stayed with the pro long enough for him to bring up another half century and be last man out for another quite brilliant innings of 85 containing 11 fours and two sixes.
That did not really diminish the margin of defeat by much as depleted Instonians left victors by a comfortable margin of 142 runs.
A tough weekend for all the Armagh players as the harsh realities of cricket in the Premier League were shown in full as weaknesses with bat, ball and in the field were cruelly exposed.
Relegation now looks more or less certain.
Next weekend Armagh host Carrick in the Premier League starting at noon, while the Mall also hosts a charity fun day with numerous fun family events planned. Keep an eye on @armaghcc on twitter for more details.
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