Marc Ellison was rewarded for the work he has been putting into further adapting his Twenty20 game with a first half-century of the season against Lisburn on Saturday.
Usually a more methodical batsman that likes to take time to work his way into an innings, the change of all cricket this season to Twenty20 matches meant Ellison has needed to put more effort into making his game suit the shortest format.
The 33-year-old has been one of the most prolific batsmen in the country over the past two seasons, scoring 1087 runs in 2018 at an average of 49.41 before following it up with 882 in the last campaign.
He has scored nine half-centuries across the two years and his first of the 2020 season came with 79* at the weekend from 58 deliveries as CSNI sealed a 54-run victory.
“I’ll be the first to say I give a couple of chances and so I rode my luck, but sometimes you need that,” he said.
“It was good to get a score and some time in the middle.
“We are only playing T20 cricket so for someone like me that likes batting over long periods of time, I’m left after the innings feeling like I want so much more time in the middle!
“It was really good to get a win and we are now two from three. We’ve got some challenging games coming up, especially in this format because every opponent has a guy or two that can change the game with the bat very quickly and with the ball all it takes is two or three bad overs and the game totally changes complexion.
“We are very keen to get into Saturday and get another win on the board.”
This weekend will see CSNI travel to Middle Road to take on Carrickfergus, where they should have Stuart Thompson and Gary Wilson available after their return from international duty in England.
Despite the aforementioned reputation of working into an innings, Ellison’s statistics are still impressive in the LVS Twenty20 Cup over the past two seasons.
He scored 211 runs in five innings in 2018 at a strike-rate of 130.25 and average of 70.33, including a 46-ball 97 against Waringstown.
Those numbers were down last season with his strike-rate sitting at 99.01 and average at 25, but despite the general success since returning from New Zealand, Ellison isn’t looking to sit still and has been working on his methods.
“My method has needed some tweaking,” he added.
“I typically like to build into an innings and move through the gears as I go and as I find some rhythm, but the reality of T20 is that you’ve to make the most of the first six overs so being more aggressive up top is something I’ve been working on over the past month or so.
“I didn’t put my best foot forward in the Knights intra-squad games that we had over the last couple of weeks. I scored a bit slowly and found the wickets a bit tricky to get going on.
“I think it’s just a matter of a switch in mindset. I’ve been speaking to a few guys that I trust and talking about how I can put as much pressure on the bowler as possible and what my options are to do that.
“I would like to build into a season by spending a lot of time in the middle but in T20 you just don’t have that luxury.
“There are a few things I’ve been working on technically over the long off-season that we had and it’s trying to make sure that feels comfortable so I can go out and watch the ball.
“That’s the lesson for me that keeps being repeated time and time again. It’s amazing what can happen when you just clear your mind and watch the ball.”
Ellison has a new opening partner this season in Ross Adair, who signed for the Premier League side from Holywood during the winter.
Adair’s game is perfectly suited to Twenty20 cricket and he has no problem in coming out of the gates quickly and aggressively.
Having Adair there has helped take the pressure off Ellison’s shoulders with CSNI relying heavily on him in recent times to set a platform.
“He’s been a massive addition to the club,” he said.
“He’s a great bloke and adds great value with his banter and his batting and bowling has been fantastic to have around.
“As an opening batter, he takes the pressure off me to get started. Typically, it has been on me to get us off to a good start over the last few years.
“The nature of T20 is that you have to get on with it in the first six overs and he does that naturally.
“It’s just about making sure that I’m bringing that same fearless approach to my play and if it comes off, the team is going to get off to a great start like he has helped us do to date.”
Ellison will also have a role to play with the Northern Knights when they get their campaign underway later this month.
Competition for a spot at the top of the order has probably never been stronger with Ellison, Adair, Shane Getkate, James McCollum, John Matchett and Ruhan Pretorius all more than viable options in both the 20 and 50-over formats.
That healthy competition will help each player strive to be their very best and Ellison is hoping for more success this season after the Knights ended a six-year wait for silverware in 2019.
“I’ve really missed it,” he added.
“It’s what I prepare for over the winter to have more success there. I’ve tasted some success but I would certainly like to do it more consistently.
“From a team perspective, we had some success last year and we are improving in all forms of the game. We have a really exciting squad and the difficulty is actually getting picked in it.
“We have a lot of depth and that’s great to see. Competition is great because it keeps everyone on their toes and keeps everybody searching for more, whether it be in runs and wickets or in training looking for that extra 1% to help you perform.
“It’s all positive from a Knights perspective and it’s a product of the work that Johnty (Simon Johnston) has been putting in.
“It’s well-deserved and hopefully we can pick up at least one of the trophies on offer this summer.”
This week also marked three years since Ellison has been back in Northern Ireland, meaning he is now eligible to represent Ireland at international level pending an application.
Working his way to the highest level remains a massive goal for Ellison and he knows how hard he will have to work to force his way into the side.
“The biggest thing for starters is settling on a method in T20 cricket that is successful more times than not,” he added when asked about his goals for the year.
“I think scoring hundreds in T20 cricket really makes a statement so it’s building a method that allows you to do that, regardless if that’s club cricket or Inter-Pro cricket.
“I’m trying to break the shackles a little bit and be a bit freer.
“Wanting to contribute more often than not is a big one for me so if I can win as many games as possible for the team then that’ll be one of the goals ticked.
“Just over the weekend my eligibility ticked over for Ireland because I’ve been here three years. I’ve gone through the application process with Cricket Ireland and the ICC over the last few weeks and my understanding is that application is with them now.
“It should go ahead no dramas and then it’s about making sure I’m performing on the pitch.
“I’m going to have to do something special to get into the Knights T20 side because there is so much competition for spaces.
“I think I was second top run-scorer in the 50-over Inter-Pro’s last year so it’s about making sure I’m right up there again and playing those match-winning innings.
“If I’m doing that, I’m making it tough for selectors and forcing their hand to give me an opportunity.
“I’m well out of the (Ireland) mix at the moment.
“We haven’t had any Inter-Pro’s and they’ve had their squad they’ve picked over there with Gareth Delany opening, Princer (James McCollum) as back-up and (William) Porterfield could open as well.
“I do feel I’m down the pecking order but a couple of innings can change that as I found with the series in La Manga.”