North Down all-rounder Peter Eakin believes a new role helped him to produce the best season of his career in 2019.
Eakin has been a mainstay in the North Down side since breaking in as a teenager back in 2011 but it was in the most recent campaign where he produced his best form, picking up 456 runs and 32 wickets in all competitions.
Those returns meant he was named as winner of the Sonny Hool Trophy for Bowling at the NCU Annual Dinner last year and he would have been a contender in the best all-rounder category which was won by Carrick’s CJ van der Walt.
The 25-year-old has been a consistent performer for the Comber side over the best part of a decade, picking up at least 20 wickets in each season apart from two and has chipped in with some important batting contributions too.
With new arrival Craig Young called into Ireland’s international side at various points throughout the summer, Eakin found himself regularly sharing the new ball with Ruhan Pretorius to great effect, and that role change definitely brought the best out of him.
“It probably is (my best season),” he said.
“My role kind of changed last year. I would have normally bowled towards the death a lot more whereas last year with Youngy not being available a lot I would have opened the bowling a lot which was good.
“Bowling with the new ball allowed me to do a bit more with it and that new role brought some benefits.
“I had been pigeonholed into being a death bowler so to get a chance to do something with the ball and move it around was good.”
Eakin’s tally of runs in 2019 also registered as his personal best, beating his efforts in 2015 (454), 2012 (434) and 2017 (429).
He scored those at an average of 38 with his high score of 114* in a Premier League clash with CSNI accompanied by another half-century at home against Waringstown.
Just like with the ball, Eakin was promoted up the order with regularity and that tended to bring positive results.
“I do think cricket is so much of a mental game, especially with batting,” he added.
“With a bit more experience I think I just know my game a little bit better now. Once you know your strengths and weaknesses and understand it all a bit more, you definitely can get better results.
“My batting was similar to bowling. I started the season batting six or seven and halfway through the season got pushed up to three.
“I hadn’t done that for North Down in a good few years and going in at the top of the order knowing your game, you can focus on your game a bit more rather than thinking about a particular situation in a game. You can just bat and bide your time a bit more.”
Putting in the level of performance that Eakin did last season over a sustained period would undoubtedly peak the interest of the Northern Knights selectors once again – a team he last played for in 2018.
The Knights have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to the all-rounder slots with the likes of Mark Adair and Shane Getkate certainties to be selected in every game.
With full-time work commitments, another crack at Inter-Provincial cricket isn’t on Eakin’s immediate radar.
“I would like to play for the Knights but I don’t really have the time to commit to the Knights that the other guys have,” he said.
“With working full-time, I’m probably not prepared to use all of my holidays to play cricket. If I was selected I would definitely play, but I’m just not able to commit to it.”
North Down’s team performance also improved dramatically in Alistair Shields’ first campaign as full-time captain compared to the 2018 season.
They finished 20 points better off in the Premier League and were only two points adrift of champions CIYMS, who they contested two competitive games with only to come out on the losing side both times.
You have to go back to 2011 to find the last time North Down picked up the Premier League title and 2010 since their last Challenge Cup crown but performances in 2019 would have provided a lot of hope that some silverware is just around the corner.
Eakin believes the current group could be on the verge of something special if they can just find a bit more consistency over the course of a season.
“It seems for the last six or seven years that we’ve had the same core of the team and had a good year then a disappointing one and then a decent one and so on,” he said.
“It’s pretty frustrating actually because we know we’ve had the same players basically for the last five years and know we can be up there at the top of the table but we just haven’t been consistent enough.
“Maybe with everyone getting a bit more experience we will have some more consistency, but we have really struggled with consistency.
“We all know we can be at the top end of the table so we need to have some more consistency to be there every year rather than every other year.”
The wait goes on to see if they will get that chance this summer or not with the possibility of no cricket or a heavily reduced schedule which could even result in the introduction of a Twenty20 league.
Whatever happens, Eakin expects North Down to be more than competitive.
“I would like to think so (we can build on last year),” he added.
“I don’t know what way it’ll work out for other teams with having professionals or not. Obviously we have Ruhan who is living here so we could be one of the only teams with a professional which would be an advantage.
“If the league turns to a T20 league, we have been pretty strong at that over the past few years and we will fancy our chances in any competition, if there is any.”