STRABANE AND FOX LODGE DEFY THE ODDS AGAIN

Bready are back at the top of the Premiership table after another fascinating afternoon of cricket across the North West on Saturday.

Such has been the make-up of the top-flight this season that nothing really constitutes a “shock” any more but even so, and allowing for a raft of unavailability, there were a couple of turn-ups in the four games.

Top of the list this time was Strabane’s win at Beechgrove. Despite the home side missing Johnny Thompson, Niall McDonnell and David Murdock, they did have the consolation of having Gareth McKeegan and Jonny Robinson back in the starting XI, however the visitors showed no lack of fight as they claimed another very valuable win.

Many felt Tommy Barr’s side would struggle to keep their Premier Division status in their first season back, and while they still might, they have certainly given themselves a real chance of proving the doubters wrong.

Lighting the way on this occasion was Aaron Gillespie as he showed the value of his Warriors’ involvement with a classy 80 (8 fours, 4 sixes). Gillespie was able to up the ante after Strabane got bogged down a bit early on, and it was just as well because the middle and lower order weren’t left with much time to work with.

Rachit Gaur added 25, Khushpal Singh 20 and Peter Gillespie 17 as the 2014 champions posted a respectable 208-9 in their 50 overs- Ryan Macbeth (3-34), David Barr (3-51) and Robinson (2-53) faring best with the ball for Brigade.

The hosts’ reply stuttered a bit at the start after McKeegan fell to a blinding catch by Gaur and then middle order wickets from Singh (4-32) seemed to have them all at sea as Brigade slumped to 75-6. Just as he did at Ardmore in the cup, Andy Britton looked to have rescued victory from the jaws of defeat for his side as he and Nick Donnell then put together a 108-run stand for the 7th wicket.

Step forward however the impressive Gaur (3-44) as he returned to the attack to dismiss both set batsmen- Britton with a valiant 85 and Donnell, a battling 36. After that, the tail couldn’t finish the job and a delighted Strabane camp, who were already celebrating Michael Gillespie’s 50th birthday, headed home with a real bonus win.

League leaders Coleraine travelled to Fox Lodge minus their openers, Scott Campbell and Marcus Poskitt and although Tim and Rishi Chopra helped cover their loss with half centuries, the Bannsiders couldn’t muster enough runs to maintain their lofty position.

The home bowlers managed to keep a tight rein on the batting side once those two and Graham Hume (36) had departed the scene as the north coast outfit had to settle for a below-par 233-7.

For a while it looked as though it might be enough as Hume (1-18 from 10) and Stephen Hutchinson (2-42) made their now customary quick start. Once again however it was to be Cebo Tshiki and Brian Allen who were to change the course of the game.

That pair added 113 for the 5th wicket after Tshiki and Luke Hayes (33) posted an 80-run stand for the 4th as the Foxies fought back. Tshiki was out just before the end- 3 runs short of a second-successive century (9 fours, 4 sixes) but Allen, batting as well as he has at any time in his career was there to see it through with an unbeaten 66 (5 fours, 3 sixes) in a 3-wicket win.

Perhaps a full-strength Coleraine would have made things more interesting and it was a similar story at the Bleachgreen where Donemana beat Ardmore by 101 runs.

The home side were without Steve Lazars and Stevie Dunn as well as Kevin Martin who would appear to have opted to sit out the rest of this season. There was of course no Niall O’Brien either and the home side found the going tough against the champions, who were equally in need of a win.

Gary McClintock’s 82 (7 fours, 5 sixes) and 65 from Malith Cooray looked to have set the Tyrone outfit on their way to a huge total before Ardmore fought back through skipper Gary Neely (4-28) to claw it back a bit late on. Cameos from Andrew Riddles and William McClintock (both 23) saw Donemana’s innings close on a still daunting 283.

To be fair the hosts didn’t take many backward steps at the start of their reply as Paul McDowell (43) and Grant Mokoena, who is on his way back to South Africa this week, began well. After that Peter Harrigan (29) and Ryan Brolly (27) fared best, but Donemana were by now well on top having turned to their spinners.

Jordan McGonigle’s fine season continued as he picked up 4-28 and there were two wickets apiece for Cooray and Gary McClintock as the champions returned to winning ways.

And so to the fourth and final Premiership game as Bready thumped a badly out-of-sorts Eglinton to return to the top of the pile.

David Rankin made 38 at the top of the visitors’ order as they started reasonably well before a century stand between Irosh Samarasooriya and Craig Young gave Bready real momentum. Young showed again that he is no mug with the bat as he made 44, however the real damage came from the Sri Lankan as he paced his inning perfectly to be not out on 100 (7 fours, 4 sixes) at the end of their 50 overs.

Without their talisman Stuart Thompson, the villagers failed to fire in reply, and testimony to how badly things went for them, only two players, Jonny Martin (17 not out) and Simon Andrews (11) made it to double figures.
Young (2-7), Scanlon (2-11) and Samarasooriya (2-15) did the bulk of the damage as Eglinton’s reply closed on a quickly-forgettable 80 all out.

Credit Bready however and their bowlers in particular- this was the third time in their opening six league matches that they have bowled their opponents out for less than 100.

That is certainly title-chasing form, but it remains to be seen if the Magheramason side has title-winning belief.

In Saturday’s Championship games Killyclooney have gone to the top of the table after a resounding 188-run win over the previous leaders Glendermott while Ballyspallen kept themselves in the hunt with a hard-fought win at Drummond.

St Johnston are on the move too as they beat Newbuildings by 42 runs while Burndennett thumped Bonds Glen by 9 wickets.