AYR gave the clearest demonstration yet of their Western Union CS title credentials yesterday with a hard-earned victory over favourites Clydesdale at Titwood.
While inflicting a first defeat on the Glasgow side, this five-wicket triumph extended Ayr's unbeaten run which began on the opening day of the season when they beat reigning champions Uddingston.
There is a long way to go, but as the halfway point in the campaign approaches, the men from Alloway are now the team to beat. This win owed most to the McElnea brothers, skipper Andi and Scott, along with professional Sikander Raza, while Neil Smith delivered a batting masterclass.
That ball would dominate bat was clear early on when the hosts slipped to 18-3, Scott McElnea bowling Haroon Sher before Raza was adjudged to have trapped Paddy Barbour in front, though the batsman may have edged the ball into his pads.
There was no doubt about the dismissal by Raza of Saltires star Richie Berrington who was struck in front of middle stump off the first delivery he faced. Sam Page and Con de Lange moved the score along to 50 before the former became McElnea's second victim, sparking a second mini-collapse as Mo Awais was run out for a single and De Lange departed for 19.
It was to prove Clydesdale's top score and included four boundaries. At 54-6 the innings was virtually in tatters though there was some fight from Andrew Scobie and particularly from Akram Shakoor who left the field with blood pouring from a head wound after being struck by a Raza bouncer but returned to hit 15 as Dale clawed their way to 114 all out.
Scott McElnea claimed 3-31 from his 15 overs while his brother, while ending Shakoor's resistance, conceded only three runs off the bat in his six overs.
Ayr's batting performance was a more solid affair with Smith seeing the innings through from start to finish. He shared a 41-run stand for the opening wicket with Andi McElnea whose 22 included four boundaries, three of them in one over off Akram.
Smith then contributed just a single to a 39-run partnership with Raza who plundered a rapid 36 with six boundaries and a huge six. Raza was eventually bowled by Mo Ali, who proceeded to give Dale a glimmer of hope with three cheap wickets, but Smith's stoicism allied to a couple of lusty blows from Scott McElnea gave Ayr victory with more than 26 overs to spare.
Meanwhile, Uddingston were pushed all the way before securing a 23-run victory over East Kilbride at Torrance House. Having restricted the champions to 196-9 with Syed Shah claiming five wickets, East Kilbride were in touch when Moneeb Iqbal hit 82 but the Scotland player's departure saw them fall short.
Scotland star Hamish Gardner stroked a century as Carlton gave themselves a morale-boosting win against Eastern Premier title challengers Forfarshire at Grange Loan. Gardner's 118, featuring 11 boundaries and three maximums, propelled them to 272-9. Omar Ahmed then pushed the centurion for the man-of-match honours with a superb seven-wicket haul as Forfarshire were dismissed for 113.
Another Hamish - Arbroath's Bartlett - also hit a century as the league leaders easily beat Stonewyood-Dyce by 148 runs at Lochlands.
And Aberdeenshire maintained their title challenge against a faltering Falkland outfit who were dismissed for 127 at Scroggie Park before Chris Venske's 76 secured a nine-wicket win for the visitors.