Bangor win epic encounter by narrowest of margins

 

BANGOR maintained their position at the top of NCU Section 2 thanks to one of the most entertaining episodes of cricket seen for some years at Upritchard Park.

Downpatirck were the visitors to north Down on Saturday for what had been billed a mouthwatering contest, but few could have predicted the show-stopping game that was to ensue.

The visitors won the toss and inserted Bangor to bat, meaning the home faithful were treated to the opening partnership of Sam McMillan and Mark Hutchinson. Bangor made their customary strong start with McMillan once again the aggressor, scoring 33 early on as the pair brought up their 50-run partnership in six overs.

Powering on with clean and destructive timing, the impressive McMillan brought his 50 up in 41 balls and before long the 100-run partnership would come up after 15 overs. Hutchinson, not to be outdone by McMillan, brought up a fastidious half-century in the much more old-school manner of 59 balls.

Seldom have Bangor seen a more settled and successful opening partnership as Hutchinson and McMillan’s imperious form continued to bring up 150 runs in 23 overs. Downpatrick, though, responded after McMillan – who appeared to be cruising towards a second century of the season – was deceived by an in-swinging delivery and out bowled by Usman

Habeebulla for 89. Just 11 agonising runs short of a century, the Bangor starboy was welcomed off of the pitch to great acclaim, after giving Bangor the start they required.

Hutchinson and Andrew Kirkpatrick were the new partnership, looking to keep the pressure on the Downpatrick side. The run rate pressed on, with both players rotating strike excellently and adding a boundary or two in the process. When running back for what seemed an easy two, a stellar direct hit from the Downpatrick fielder had Kirkpatrick out run out. There was little that could be done by the all-rounder as he departed for 17 with the score at 203-2 after 30 overs.

Since his return to cricket this season, Hutchinson’s run scoring has been unmatched and that form continued on Saturday as he brought his century up off 104 balls in a vintage innings.

The applause was short-lived for Hutchinson however, who departed for 106. Skipper Jonny Parker and Robbie Van Harte were now at the crease, adding six boundaries between them. The rest of the innings featured cameos from Will Simpson, Michael Skelly and Myles McNaught, as Bangor posted an imposing 290 runs total.

Downpatrick did not start their chase as they might have hoped. With tight bowling from Van Harte and Chris Pyper at both ends, the pressure built and resulted in three wickets. The first of these was a stunning slip catch from George Prince, which set the tone for the Bangor side as Van Harte would collect two more wickets via LBW as the ball was swinging early.

These wickets brought Marco Wyngard and Charlie Hutton to the crease. The pair batted admirably with Wyngard displaying powerful ball striking. However, the run rate continued to fluctuate between seven and eight an over.

The atmosphere was pensive as Bangor dropped catches, missing out on crucial opportunities to remove the two set batsmen. Downcast, Bangor seemed to be letting this game slip away as Wyngard brought up his ton, until McMillan tempted him with a full delivery which the South African shot into orbit. Michael Skelly was set under the ball on the boundary and took the catch to prompt cheers from all corners.

Wyngard departed for an excellent 102 off 73 balls, but short of a winning total. Downpatrick were now 221-4 requiring 69 to win off eight overs.

The away side did not take the blow lying down, continually battling and scoring runs. After a relatively expensive over from Pyper in the 38th, George Prince was to bowl the 39th with 13 required off of two overs.

Singles were all that occurred in the first half as Prince bowled tightly. Then, disaster struck. A no-ball was hit for four as the total was reduced to six off nine balls, but Prince dismissed Hutton with the next who departed for 105.

The very next ball saw the new batsman hit one sky high and as it sailed for six, young McMillan appeared to claim a sensational catch as the away side lost two wickets in two balls.

Six runs were required and six balls remained. Some may remember Bangor’s famous victory in the T20 Bowl final a year ago, when Pyper defended four off the last over to claim the silverware, and on Saturday he was allowed more leeway with a healthy six runs to defend.

With just two balls remaining and four runs required, victory for Bangor was close, but defeat not far behind it. A great stop on the boundary by Prince following a loose ball prevented the worst from happening, but failed to stop the two runs from being scored.

And so to the final ball, with all of Upritchard Park waiting with baited breath. Pyper beat the outside edge and Downpatrick’s non-striker had taken off, but Kirkpatrick used all his experience to remove the bails and give Bangor the spoils, by the barest of margins.

This was a team performance, from a side who are in the habit of winning and feel there is something special building within them. There is unlikely to be a more entertaining game of local cricket this year – but one thing is for certain – when Bangor are up against the wall, they just seem to find a way out.

Bangor 290-6 (40 overs, S McMillan 89, M Hutchinson 106, R Van Harte 24)

Downpatrick 289-9 (40 overs, M Wyngard 102, C Hutton 105, H Khan 21, R Van Harte 3-37, G Prince 3-66)

Bangor beat Downpatrick by 1 run