After sitting out of Ireland’s three-game ODI series against England in Southampton, James McCollum will be looking to make the most of the upcoming Inter-Provincial Series with the Northern Knights, starting with Thursday’s opener against the North West Warriors.
McCollum has played in nine ODI’s for Ireland since making his debut in February 2019 and scored consecutive half-centuries against Zimbabwe in Belfast last summer.
The 25-year-old was named in the 22-man party that travelled to the Ageas Bowl last month but wasn’t selected in the matchday squads with Gareth Delany instead preferred to partner Paul Stirling at the top of the order.
Since returning, McCollum has scored 109 runs in three innings for Waringstown at an average of 54.5 and strike rate of 111.2 as they attempt to qualify for the Robinson Services Cup play-offs.
He scored 57 in an 18-run defeat to CIYMS at the weekend and although he wasn’t in the middle during the recent international series, he was working away in the nets and feels his game is in a good spot heading into a busy late-summer schedule.
“It feels in a decent place,” he said.
“It’s a bit hard to tell because we haven’t had a lot of game time. Usually you’re sitting in August with 30 games or so under your belt but obviously we haven’t had that this year so it’s tough to gauge where you’re at.
“I worked hard in the nets over in Southampton for three weeks without playing much cricket but we were training most days.
“Simon Johnston sorted us out with a good training schedule when we came back so it’s been great to get a few games under my belt and get back with the Waringstown boys. I feel like I haven’t played with them in so long because I didn’t play many games for them last year.
“It’s great to be back there and scoring a few runs. We might have to win our final two games to qualify for the semi-finals so hopefully we can put in a couple of big performances.”
Being left out of any squad isn’t easy but given that the coronavirus pandemic had already wiped out the majority of McCollum’s opportunities for the season up to this point, it has left him (and many other players) without the desired rhythm and match practice.
The last competitive cricket he played before returning to the club game two weeks ago was on an Ireland Wolves tour to South Africa in February where he batted twice against Namibia, so he is looking to make the most of the run of Knights fixtures coming up.
“It’s always disappointing to get left out but I would pride myself on my work ethic and the thought put into my game and training.
“For me, I’m doing what I love and I’m waking up trying to get better whether I’m sitting on the sideline or not, but I do feel like I have a bit of a point to prove now.
“I’m not trying to look into it too much. It’s a small setback personally not playing those games but the guys did so well.
“The batters in the last game were unbelievable and it’s still great to be a part of even if I didn’t get to play.
“Hopefully I can take my opportunity when we play the 50-over games in the middle of September. I want to go out and keep enjoying my cricket.
“I know if I keep putting in the hard work that it’ll eventually pay off and I’m not too stressed about it.”
McCollum opened the batting for the Knights in the Inter-Provincial Trophy last season with Shane Getkate, scoring 59 runs in three innings at a strike rate of 134.1 and high score of 42* in victory over the Warriors.
He has worked hard on his white ball game over the past couple of years after excelling in red ball cricket earlier in his career, and despite his international status, he isn’t taking a place in the Knights team for granted.
“It’s been difficult over the last 12-18 months because I was effectively just a solely red ball player even at the start of 2019.
“I scored a couple of hundreds for the Wolves which helped and with the lack of red ball cricket over the past year, I’ve had to really push myself out of my comfort zone in white ball cricket and get better in areas that wouldn’t have been my strengths.
“I feel I’ve done that to an extent but still have a long way to go.
“It’s quite exciting for me because I see myself as a red ball player but have had a chance to work on my white ball game.
“If you’d asked me 18 months ago would I be playing white ball cricket for Ireland, I would have said no so it’s a bonus for me.
“I don’t know if I’ll play in the T20’s because we have a lot of guys knocking on the door that have been playing well in club cricket.
“Ross Adair has been scoring runs and Marc Ellison is very unlucky to miss out on the first game as he’s a seriously good player.
“The Knights are now in a position where we are leaving out players who are scoring consistent runs.
“If I get the opportunity, hopefully I can go out and express myself. If not, I’ll keep working hard.
“If I think back to where we were two seasons ago and compare it with the depth we have now it’s ridiculous.
“A lot of credit has to go to Gary Wilson and Simon Johnston for really sorting out the structure we have in place now and everything behind the scenes that you don’t see on the pitch.
“Stirlo coming back is going to be a massive help even though it’s only for one game and you have these guys coming back from County cricket that we can learn from.
“They’ve almost professionalised the set-up a bit more and it’s as competitive as it has ever been.”
The Knights will be looking to build on their success of 2019, where they beat all three teams in as many days to lift the Trophy title.
They seem to have all bases covered and it’s now just about showing it on the pitch, starting this week before hosting Leinster Lightning at Comber next Tuesday.
“We played good cricket in the Festival down at Pembroke.
“When we are on form, we tick all the boxes but it’s tough because you don’t know whether lads will be rusty or not.
“We hope that guys getting club cricket in will help and we will go out to play fearless cricket and enjoy ourselves like we did last season.
“I remember we were very good in the field last season and we have set the benchmark there so we will be looking to pick that up again, express ourselves with the bat, have clear plans with the ball and hopefully execute.”