These are the days of miracles and wonder. Before the season began Ballymena were dead and buried, doomed to relegation by all and sundry. Now we have won twice in five matches, we sit eight points above the drop. But how and why? Well, we beat Carrick on Saturday, and pretty comfortably in the end.
I had not expected to play this week. Despite the brilliance of the preceding days, the forecast for Saturday morning was shocking. You may be familiar with the colour scheme with which the Met Office depicts the intensity of rainfall. Saturday’s weather map had more ‘red rain’ than a Peter Gabriel setlist.
Even as we made the trip through the country in the morning, dark skies loomed. Headlights blared from passing cars, low mists shrouded the hills, and the sun shone only in Doagh. Creedence came on the radio: ‘Who’ll Stop the Rain?’ Were we really going to play cricket?
Yet when we arrived at the ground we saw that the Carrick squad had deployed in full. There was sopping, mopping, squeezing, rolling, and roping. It was like Ground Force on steroids. To parrot Colin Montgomerie, all credit to them.
So we started late – reduced to 47 overs – and the toss, surely, would be vital. Yes, the ball would get a bit damp, but it would also swing, the pitch would deck about, and the conditions would improve for batting throughout the day. Carrick won the toss and batted first.
We were without The Great Bald One, who was sunning his pate in Majorca, so Purse and Gibson opened up. Purse struck early, procuring a glove to the keeper and, with the ball swinging away to the slips, increasing numbers of fielders were moved to the off-side.
By the eighth over he had a two slips, a gully, third man, backward point, point, cover point, extra cover, and mid-off (yes, it was a 9:0 field). It was a brave shot, then, to drive in the air through the off-side? Almost incredibly, it soon went straight to point, two down.
Yet from here Holmes and Kamtekar (and briefly Gilmour) played their shots against what was some fairly generous bowling. Maybe batting first was the right thing to do. At times like this I count down from 300 as the maximum that we should concede. If we take a wicket, that total comes down by 10. If we take a big wicket, it comes down by 20. With ten overs to go, Carrick were well on course for 280 or more.
Then Holmes missed one, sweeping; then Kammy top-edged a cut to backward point; then a few more fell, the last ten went only for 51, and suddenly we were chasing 232. A good comeback, first by Simon McDowell – welcome back, Simon – and eventually the rest of us.
Following an excellent tea (more of a dinner, really) Jack and I resumed an opening partnership that last put on 56 against Lisburn. Lightning struck twice as we raced to 43 in the seventh over. I hadn’t batted at Middle Road since a youth match in 2004, so I enjoyed it: you don’t get full value for your shots at Carrick, you get more than that.
But Jack was caught behind, I went sweeping (stupid boy), and Philip Harshaw was caught at mid-on. We found ourselves at 95-3. Steve was not playing either, so quite a bit rested on the partnership between Azeem and James.
They batted beautifully, they ran well, they targeted the weaker bowlers, and neither offered a chance. Twenty overs later they had put on 140 and we had won by 7 wickets. There will never have been such an important victory celebrated with such limited enthusiasm.
Afterwards, Carrick and their heavily populated bar were bracing themselves for 4 July celebrations: the place was decorated with stars and stripes and the DJ was preparing a playlist of American classics. If we had stayed longer it might have been an appropriate occasion to inflict my Bruce Springsteen impression on the locals, but that would have been adding insult to injury.
I have written this on the train to and from Belfast on Monday. Today CricketEurope began its coverage of the Twenty20 World Cup Qualifier with the warm-up matches at Stormont. As you will have learned from the various home pages of the site, we have been forbidden from providing anything like ‘live’ coverage of the tournament.
This because the ICC have assigned official media duties to OPTA. Having looked at the official coverage today, I can safely declare that OPTA are producing simple-minded garbage.
If you don’t believe me, go and read their ‘commentary’, by which I mean the same six or seven stock phrases that are generated by a computer regardless of what actually happens on the pitch. ‘He hits a nice boundary’ for every four. ‘He hits a great shot that goes all the way’ for every six. ‘He picks up a single’ for, well, for every single. It is just disgracefully awful, a flood of banality, and proof – if proof were needed – that cricket is almost the last thing on these people’s agenda.
Anyway, the cricket did not last long because of the weather. The most notable moment of the day therefore came just before lunch when, as temperatures plunged and as the rain poured down, the assembled gentlemen of the media (all five of us) were presented with two bags of ice.
It seems the ice was meant to accompany a selection of soft drinks – provided of course by the ICC’s official refreshment partners – but the soft drinks had not yet reached us. The bar staff who were carrying the drinks had been denied access to the media tent because they did not have accreditation.
To make things worse, as the rain lashed sideways into our faces, the PA system started playing an extended jazz ‘jamming’ session dominated by a Hammond organ solo. As if my thoughts were being read, the next tune to be played was AC/DC’s ‘Hells Bells’.
If there are any more days like this, the next few weeks could be interesting: to paraphrase a famous screenplay, Dostoevsky once wrote that ‘Hell is perhaps nothing more than a room with a chair’, and the media tent at Stormont has several chairs.