North cricket: Forres St Lawrence run Ross County close in high-scoring encounter at Strathpeffer
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BIG scoring was the order of the day when Forres St Lawrence's first eleven made the trip to Strathpeffer to take on Ross County.
With the outfield short and dry the Highland ground looked a picture postcard and the home side opted to make use of conditions, batting first.
Fraser Merricks and Magnus McGhee took the new ball, Merricks keeping good control and claiming the first two wickets including the dangerous Graeme Carney for 4.
McGhee is still learning his trade but bowled well, while change bowler John Stretch removed opener Duncan Scott for 49, bowled as he was starting to open up.
Then shortly afterwards Regan Francis top-edged a ball into his face which caused a serious injury and he did not return to the field.
His 26 runs in the middle order were invaluable though and Sugden and Hardwick built on the platform to move County on from 94 for 3 to 144 when Hardwick was bowled by Ryan Ellwood for 22.
Former Highland player, Kacey Clement, is now on the County books. He took his time to get going but he is a dangerous player.
Forres bowlers Darren Lamb and Ellwood bowled well but as the overs ran out and with every ball that passed the fielder going for four, the home side were amassing a sizeable total.
The Forres bowlers were working hard but Clement peppered the boundary with fours and sixes. Youngster McGhee came back for an over and had the satisfaction of bowling Clement for 64, the innings closing shortly afterwards on 245 for 5.
Merricks was the pick of the bowlers with a fine 2 for 25 off nine overs.
Pal Dhami and Nigel Gerrard were back in harness at the top of the Forres order and Dhami looked as if he had never been away, his first scoring shot a four through mid-on.
The Forres run rate was keeping up with what was needed as Dhami picked off the opening bowlers but the introduction of Paul Moxon and Renato Belli spelled disaster for Forres.
Gerrard was caught behind of Moxon for 9 then Dhami was bowled by Moxon for 52 leaving Forres on 68 for 2.
Gus Farr and Magnus McGhee had a look at the bowling but McGhee tried to work a ball of Belli only for it to loop up into the hands of Carney.
Then Stretch was trapped in front by Belli and suddenly things looked bleak for Forres at 77 for 4.
Ellwood came out to join Farr who now needed to try to guide the team to some sort of respectability.
The newcomer got off the mark with 3 then a trio of boundaries. Heartened by this Farr joined in and soon the runs were flowing again.
Bowling changes gave some easy pickings as the batsmen made the most of what was on offer.
By the time the next wicket fell Forres were sitting on 163 and it was an unfortunate run out that saw Ellwood give up his wicket to keep Farr at the crease - 36 valuable runs in the bag for the dismissed batsman.
Merricks struck a boundary then was bowled by Belli, replaced by Lamb who hung around to support Farr.
Their partnership of 27 took Forres to the 200 mark just as Lamb lost his wicket to Chris Blake and the next over saw Farr caught off Sugden for top score of the day, 77.
Normally the Forres tail whimpers but on Saturday it had a laugh. Al Farr finally came back to the crease showing a glimpse of how he can play, adding 15 including a huge six straight down the ground.
Teenager Will Murdoch made his senior debut and showed everyone he is no mug with the bat, three boundaries for him before his wicket fell to Moxon and Ian Roberts tucked in with a boundary first ball.
The overs finally ran out and up to the last over Forres could have won the match.
One more boundary might have made the difference but Forres felt that they had won their day by pushing Ross County all the way, finishing on 240 for 9.
This Saturday the Saints are at home in a 30-over cup semi-final against Elgin, 1pm start.