Bangor 1st Xl made the journey to the much revamped Ballygomartin Road ground on Saturday, after the disappointment of Friday’s Match 2 rearrangement against Derriaghy being voided due to the weather conditions, as well as nonsensical regulations, but more on that later.
The away side had not beaten Woodvale since 2014 as their experience has outdone the skill and raw ability of Bangor in recent times. Bangor welcomed the return of Bates, McCollum, McLarnon, Patterson and most notably, Paddy English back into the line-up, with only Miller and Prince the regular members unavailable for selection. With a richness of talent on the team card, if there ever was a time to record a win over Woodvale, this was it.
Both the soft wicket, and the home team’s ability to chase well, lead to Skipper Burns’ decision to bowl first upon winning the toss. This seemed to be a great choice as both Nixon and Khan extracted extravagant movement, both laterally and vertically, as the former hit Michael Irwin on the head with a full pitched delivery. Fortunately for all involved, his partner O’Neill, who was inexplicably batting without a helmet, fell LBW to Nixon before facing a similar delivery. Khan soon made the huge breakthrough, bowling the prolific professional Strydom for 0 with an absolute peach, leaving the impressive new scoreboard on 14-2 after 7.
Bates and Kwelu replaced the opening bowlers after the innings had meandered to 23-2 after 13 tight overs. After two maidens, the wicket column increased further as Kwelu had the dangerous Mark Irwin caught in the gully by McCollum who was glowing after his 12th holiday of 2018. This wicket brought the explosive Saeed to the crease; a batsman who Bangor knew a lot about after smashing numerous maximums each time these two teams meet. Rather unluckily for Kwelu, Saeed was put down by a very difficult chance at slip before he had registered a run. Was this to prove costly?
After some lusty hitting from Saeed, Bangor decided to change the pace, introducing off-spinner Stewart into the attack in an attempt to lure Saeed into a mistake. Saeed, who launches into anything pitched in his half, smeared a couple of boundaries off the spinner leaving Bangor with more questions than answers. At the other end, Michael Irwin was still struggling to score as Kwelu and Stewart bowled impeccable lines and lengths. Irwin attempted to join the party, dancing down the wicket to Stewart before whipping a legside catch to Nixon at midwicket. Gibson replaced Irwin and didn’t last long against the very impressive Stewart, who was extracting turn and bounce, having him expertly caught at point by English. When available, English lifts the fielding standards of the team markedly with his safe hands and bullet like arm. He didn’t disappoint. When Stewart had Robinson LBW for 23, Bangor knew it was a case of restricting Saeed of strike, whilst trying to remove the remaining batsmen.
At 147 for 7, the game was in the balance as Saeed had passed 50, hitting the netting at the short straight boundaries with alarming regularity. The returning Bates made the decisive breakthrough, having Saeed caught at long-on by the cool Patterson for a belligerent 86. Sensing the end was nigh, Nixon and Khan returned to clean up the tail, bowling Woodvale all out for a par score of 173.
At the interval, Team Manager, Stephen Burns delivered his trademark rousing call of ‘we owe them one’, and how we did. Stephen’s son Chris, and McCollum made their way to the crease fully aware that this was not a Upritchard park road. In Strydom, Woodvale had the fastest bowler in the league and this proved to be Burns’ downfall as a cut shot was rushed, ballooning the ball to point for a simple catch. Nixon had the unenviable view of McCollum being unluckily adjudged caught down the legside, before departing himself, leaving Bangor in the fragile position of 45-3 after 11.
In Khan and McCusker, Bangor had two exceptional players who have dug their team out of holes from match 1. This was potentially the crucial partnership of the match and both sides knew it. Both men took blows to the body and gloves bravely, despatching the odd loose ball for four. When the runs required fell to double figures, Patrick Dixon was heard muttering ‘Bangor believe’ repeatedly which must have been a real irritant to his fellow scorer.
Bangor continued to believe as the pair ticking off the runs in 10s at a steady rate. Such as is the norm in cricket, the remaining squad did not leave their seats due to superstition. When Stephen Burns tried to leave his bench to collect a glass of Malbec, he was ushered back to his seat; this partnership was worth too much. Woodvale threw everything at the pair as they rotated their bowlers and applied some unorthodox fielding positions in an attempt to distract Khan and McCusker, but these men are built of stronger stuff.
When Khan raised his bat for his 50, Bangor were 104-3. With drinks soon after, Bangor hoped that this break would not disrupt their flow. The refreshments seemed to send Khan into overdrive, as he began to send the ball over the ropes against the slower bowlers much to the delight of the visiting team and their faithful support. The century stand soon arrived, which was an incredible achievement on such a difficult wicket.
During a purple patch, Adam unleashed some of his beautiful cover drives, adding to Khan’s legside blows which left the home skipper scratching his head. With the score on 151-3, Khan found himself on the dream position on 94 with a free-hit as Saeed overstepped. For the first time that day, he was unable to find the middle of the bat. When he reached 98, the scenario was repeated, as Khan mistimed another free hit. Fortunately, moments later, Khan hit another exquisite cover drive to bring up his first hundred for Bangor CC. The rapturous applause from his teammates and Bangor supporters demonstrated just how popular the great man is.
When McCusker stroked a ball to the cover boundary, Bangor were confirmed victors by a huge margin of 7 wickets, breaking the voodoo Woodvale had over them. There was no doubt who Man of the Match was, as Khan backed up his 10 overs of tidy bowling with a truly magnificent hundred. Adam’s contribution must also be mentioned, as he was the perfect sidekick for Khan with his determined batting. He too, is such a big reason why Bangor sit second in the NCU Section 1 table.
As mentioned, Bangor’s voided match has meant that mathematically they could come second in the league despite losing the least number of games. Even though both teams knew Friday’s game was not going to be played early in the week due to the terrible forecast, Bangor’s hands were tied as the date could not be changed due to red tape.
Bangor now have a crunch game against Holywood at Upritchard Park on Saturday which promises to be an interesting and competitive encounter.