Instonians all-rounder Nikolai Smith will depart Belfast later this month for Muscat in Oman as he prepares to meet up with the Italian national side for the first time.
The 26-year-old has been a mainstay in Instonians side since 2013, helping the Shaws Bridge outfit to three Premier League titles and four Challenge Cup finals.
He scored 668 runs in the 2019 season at an average of 33.40 and high score of 106* in the Irish Senior Cup against Cork County.
Smith will leave for the ICC Cricket World Cup Challenge League B campaign with Italy in Oman next week where Bermuda, Hong Kong, Jersey, Kenya and Uganda all await.
All teams are looking to take one step closer to qualifying for the 2023 World Cup in India, with a second round of fixtures being held in Uganda between 27 July – 9 August 2020.
Italy kick off their tournament, where all matches have List A status, against Kenya on December 3 and Smith explained how it all came about.
“My mum’s side of the family are from Italy so we have had Italian passports for ages,” he said.
“A couple of months ago I got in touch with Robbie Humphries from World Sports Xchange because he initially helped get me to Belfast. He got me in contact with one of the guys and I emailed them.
“They never really came back to me but then came back to me a couple of weeks ago and it went from there. It all happened really quickly.
“They asked me if I would be interested and I said yes. I didn’t know it would all be happening so soon but they said they have a tournament in November so I chatted to my boss in work and he told me to go for it. I’m very thankful for that also.”
Smith has played in five First Class matches for the Northern Knights since making his debut in May 2017.
His last List A outing came in June 2018 and he is excited about the prospect of testing himself in the Middle East.
“The goal has been to play at high of a level that I possibly can,” he added.
“That’s why I was over here playing for the Knights and possibly play for Ireland if that ever came about. This opportunity has come and I’m going to take it with both hands.
“I’m looking forward to it. I don’t know what to expect really but I watched a couple of the teams playing in the World Cup qualifying tournament against Ireland.
“It will be interesting and I’m looking forward to seeing how it goes.”
Since the 2019 season ended in September, Smith has kept himself busy training with Instonians coach Gavin Rogers and a couple of sessions with the Knights, so he won’t be heading into the competition cold.
“I’ve been with Gavin Rogers a couple of times at Shaws Bridge which I’m very thankful for,” he said.
“He’s been a great help and the Knights started last week so I’ve had a couple of sessions there.
“When we arrive there’ll be a couple of warm-up games so I should have a good bit of cricket under my belt before we start.”
The Knights had a successful 2019 season and won their first piece of silverware since 2013 with Inter-Provincial Trophy success.
Their squad is as strong as it has ever been with eight players starring for Ireland throughout this calendar year, and Smith will have his eye on turning out in the Inter-Provincial series in 2020.
“Every cricketer that’s involved in the set-up wants to improve and get into the Knights,” he added.
“It’s just about pushing yourself to score more runs and take more wickets to force your way in with the weight of runs and wickets.”