Category: Feature Interviews

“When we have small setbacks like this, it pulls us all together” – Jeff Maguire remaining positive despite Dundrum flooding

Despite their ground being flooded due to the rainfall brought by Storm Francis, Dundrum Chairman of Selectors and stalwart Jeff Maguire says it’s ‘far from doom and gloom’ around the club.

In photos and videos posted to social media on Tuesday afternoon, it was clear to see the damage that had been done to the County Down club’s home pitch with the whole ground submerged by water.

The rain is forecast to continue overnight and into Wednesday but Maguire doesn’t believe too much more damage will be caused and says these aren’t the worst conditions that the ground has faced.

“In 2008 we had a Sri Lankan professional over called Manoj Fernando (who lived on site) and he rang me one day saying I needed to get up there quick,” he said.

“I told him he would be alright because it was only water but he said I can’t swim! He was petrified.

“Water was coming up the path towards the pavilion and I will never forget it. It was worse then.

“The forecast says there will be more rain tonight and tomorrow.

“I don’t think there will be too much more damage because the river usually drops quickly. Big tides are the issue because that’s what backs it up.

“The big issue, and we’ve been saying this before, there is a drain that the Rivers Agency put in years ago that runs straight through our ground probably for a mile up into the corner.

“We have videoed where it is leaking and coming out into the ground, but the Rivers Agency says it isn’t theirs even though they maintain the bit at the end where the pipe comes out.

“They’ve put steps and rails down to it so we will be on to the local council when this is over.”

Maguire’s enthusiasm for Dundrum shines through in every conversation and he believes the ground is good enough to be approved for Grade One status by the Northern Cricket Union.

He predicts that within two weeks everything will be back to normal at The Meadow.

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Dundrum captain James Martin and Conor Moag out for a swim. ©Dundrum Cricket Club

“The good thing about it is that it wasn’t saltwater,” he added.

“If it was saltwater, there would be more damage.

“We were planning to do work to the square in 10 days time so that would have really ruined it.

“In 7-14 days, we will be back to normal.

“We have three ground staff – one is 60, one is 81 and the other is 82. They are three unpaid ground staff and they had the place in really good order.

“We have a new electric scoreboard, extensions at both ends of the ground, double sightscreens and new covers.

“I was looking to push this year to see why it’s not a grade one ground because we think it is. It doesn’t produce massive scores but it produces great cricket.”

Dundrum have organised a pre-season tour to Shropshire and are planning to once again bring their junior section across the water next summer.

Maguire is maintaining a positive outlook despite the setback and says it will bring everyone closer together.

“It’s far from doom and gloom,” he said.

“There is the captain and young fella out standing in it with water up to their waist smiling. There’s a buzz about the club at the minute.

“We were beat by one run by the Drumaness Superkings in a great game of cricket and we are still buzzing.

“We have organised a pre-season tour to Shropshire and we will go in the spring now because of Covid.

“We have plans to bring our juniors away somewhere next year because we are one of the few clubs that do it and we want to continue doing it.

“I think we are a very progressive club. I wanted that post up today with them out swimming because it shows it isn’t doom and gloom.

“No one has died. Newcastle has been flooded and homes have been ruined. We haven’t and we will get there. We have a very positive attitude about the club.

“We were burnt down twice during the Troubles and that helped rejuvenate the club. When we have small setbacks like this, it pulls us all together.”

Team glory more important than personal achievement for Pretorius

Ruhan Pretorius has been in fine form for high-flying North Down this season and he is hoping to carry that into the Inter-Provincial Series with the Northern Knights.

The T20 Trophy gets underway tomorrow for the Knights, who are defending champions, when they travel to Bready to face the North West Warriors (1:30pm start).

Pretorius has scored 195 runs in seven innings so far at club level, helping the Comber side to a second-placed spot in the Robinson Services Cup and a LVS Twenty20 Cup final against CIYMS on Sunday.

The 29-year-old is one of many talented all-rounder options in the Knights squad, with the likes of Shane Getkate and Mark Adair also included, and Pretorius, who has collected 10 wickets this season, could also have an important role to play with the ball.

“I’m feeling confident,” he said ahead of the series.

“I’ve had a couple of scores and as everyone would say, I’m looking for time in the middle.

“I read the article with Princer (James McCollum) and I would 100% agree with what he said in terms of at this time of the season you’ve usually played more than 25 games and now you’re just searching for time in the middle.

“Even though I’m hitting it pretty well and you can hit it as well as you want to in the nets, you’re looking for the time in the middle.”

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Pretorius batting against Waringstown. ©CricketEurope

Pretorius’ runs have come at an uncharacteristic strike rate of 86.3 but his average of 39 is very healthy and he has helped the team to six wins from seven games in all competitions.

He is looking to speed up his innings and feels he could be in a better spot now after hitting 58* against CSNI last weekend.

“I’ve been getting starts which is good and getting myself in with the odd 20 or 30 and then a few fifties that I’ve had.

“It’s been good in the sense that I’m getting myself in and now it’s just about getting a better strike rate because I have been eating up balls.

“I will be the first person to say that I have been batting really slowly and in some sort of way I think it can put other guys under pressure.

“At some stages it has been me trying to bat quickly but because of the lack of cricket and first time not having cricket for the whole year, I’ve been playing catch up.

“I was saying to Johnty that even when I’m in the middle and trying to score, I’m hitting the ball straight to fielders or missing the ball that I’m used to hitting.

“I have spent a few innings batting through and at the weekend I got more time in the middle, so hopefully that has got me back on track and where I want to be.”

He has been opening the batting with Ireland international Paul Stirling for the last two games, with the pair putting on a stand of 71 at Stormont on Saturday.

Stirling will play his only game for the Knights this season on Thursday and Pretorius has been able to enjoy the best seat in the house for his 76 runs from 44 deliveries across two games.

“It’s been entertaining.

“It’s amazing to stand at the other end and watch one of the best Twenty20 players in the world.

“You have a front row seat so it has been cool to watch him play. You can also ask him any question and he will try to help and give advice where he can.”

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Paul Stirling batting for North Down. ©CricketEurope

The pair will walk out together in the final against defending champions CIYMS at The Lawn on Sunday in what promises to be a thrilling encounter.

The clubs play each other twice in as many days with a league fixture on Saturday and Pretorius is looking forward to the challenge.

“We have got ourselves into a final on Sunday against a team that deserve to be there because they are a team that wins trophies and that can be hard to do.

“We will have to be at our best even though we have the likes of Stirlo and Youngy.

“They also have guys that can win games for them so it’ll definitely be a good game.

“Hopefully the weather goes in our favour and we get a full game in.

“We have cricketers who have been hitting the ball as well as I’ve ever seen them like Ally (Shields), Ryan Haire, Peter Eakin – the boys are really hitting it well.

“Carl Robinson has been in super form with the ball and Youngy too. We can also mix it up with the likes of myself, Peter Eakin and Peter Davison.

“We have a good bowling attack and it’s about switching ourselves on.”

His immediate attention will be on Thursday’s game against the Warriors in what is just his third for the Knights.

Pretorius has played in 62 First Class matches where he has hit 2610 runs and taken 157 wickets so his big-game experience could prove crucial.

He qualifies as a local player at the end of next year so every game up to that point will be a chance to impress Ireland’s selectors, but the team result is more important to him than any personal goals.

“Even when I play for my club, I’m trying to play to the highest potential that I can.

“I think when I stop doing that it’ll be the time to give up cricket. Every time I step over the line is an opportunity to go and show the talent that has been given to me.

“ I would love for the T20 and 50-over series to go as well as possible but if I can win games for the Knights wherever I bat or bowl, that’ll show my performances.

“It’s more about winning games for me than doing well myself.”

James McCollum looking to make the most of Inter-Provincial Series opportunities

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.”

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James McCollum has been in fine form for Waringstown. ©CricketEurope

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.

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James McCollum batting for Ireland. ©CricketEurope

“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.”

Gary Wilson full of confidence ahead of Inter-Provincial campaign

Northern Knights captain Gary Wilson is entering the 2020 Inter-Provincial Series full of confidence that his side have what it takes to lift more silverware.

In his first full season back in the NCU last year, Wilson helped lead the Knights to their first competition victory in six years when they won the Twenty20 Trophy.

Fast forward a year and confidence has grown even more in the camp with Wilson just one of nine Irish internationals that will be in the 13-man squad for the opening game against the North West Warriors at Bready on Thursday.

There was originally 11 internationals in the team but Greg Thompson and James Cameron-Dow won’t be involved in the first game with Josh Manley and CJ van der Walt stepping in.

Competition for places in the matchday squad is fierce, especially at the top of the order, and Wilson says his men will be entering the competition believing they have what it takes to come out on top,

“There is really good competition for places,” he said.

“You just have to look at some of the names that have missed out who are very good cricketers and proven at Inter-Pro level.

“It’s a good place for the selectors, coach and captain to be in.

“It’s great to have options.

“We have Stirlo, James (McCollum), Shane (Getkate), Mark and Ross Adair and Ruhan (Pretorius) that can all potentially open the batting in Inter-Pro cricket.

“We then have myself and Harry to bat in the middle and any of those six can bat 5, 6 or 7.

“We are very well set and are a very good team so want to approach the games with that attitude.

“We don’t want to be cocky or arrogant but we want to approach the game with a swagger that we believe we are the best team in the competition and that’s no disrespect to the other teams.

“It’s been a long time since the Knights have been able to approach games with that attitude but if you look at the way we shape up, we deserve to be able to turn up with the attitude that we will win the game.”

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Northern Knights last season. ©CricketEurope

The Knights have been able to develop a squad with real depth, meaning they will likely bat right down to number 11.

That will allow them to continue going hard at the opposition throughout the innings but it’s also about playing smart cricket for Wilson, and he is confident they have the players to successfully negotiate anything they come up against.

“It’s going to be really important to assess the conditions.

“If you rock up and you see the pitch is a green top, there’s no point shooting for 200+ if 150 is a winning score.

“At the same time, if the pitch is good we have the batting order and firepower to be able to shoot for the stars.

“Whatever pitch we see, we believe we have the attributes to combat the attack and pitch.”

One man that is guaranteed his spot at the top of the order is Paul Stirling, who will play against the Warriors on Thursday before departing for the T20 Blast in England where he will join up with his Northants team-mates.

The 29-year-old has been playing for his new club North Down over the past couple of weekends and Wilson says having him present even for one game boosts the competition massively.

“He will bring another dimension to what we already have and he is excited to play.

“It’s great for the competition that he’s able to play one game.

“I think the Inter-Pro’s are all about raising the standard of cricket in Ireland and winning for the Knights will hopefully be a by-product of that.

“When we take the field, we will be doing everything we can do to win but the most important thing is that Irish cricket is in a good position and to have guys like Paul Stirling playing in the competition can only help that.”

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Paul Stirling batting for North Down. ©CricketEurope

Wilson himself has only batted once in a competitive environment so far this summer, hitting 11 for CSNI on Saturday in their Robinson Services Cup defeat to North Down.

He was left out of the matchday squad for each of Ireland’s three ODI games against England in Southampton and although not entering the Inter-Pro’s with much match practice under his belt, it will be a case of backing experience and skill.

“It’s the 18th of August and I’ve had one competitive hit so it isn’t ideal but I’m 34 years old so I’ll go back to the well.

“It’s not like I’ll be learning anything new from competitive hits it’s more match practice that I’m missing.

“In an ideal world, I would have had more match practice but it is what it is and a lot of people are in the same boat.

“I was disappointed to not get a game in Southampton but I understand the reasons and I’m looking forward to the series now to go out and play with a bit of freedom.”

He will be leading a Knights side that have so much potential and Wilson says the hard work that has been put in over the years is now showing.

“It’s been in the pipeline for some time.

“The guys put in so much work long before I got here.

“The work that Simon and the guys have been putting in over the last three or four years is starting to come to fruition now.

“We deserve to have a reputation of not just being able to win games but I would think teams now look at us thinking we are a good side.

“That’s up to them however they want to look at us but we want to approach the game knowing we are a good side, play with that confidence and hopefully the results take care of themselves.”

‘It’s as strong as we’ve been since I was involved’ – Northern Knights head coach Simon Johnston looks ahead to the Inter-Provincial Series

Northern Knights head coach Simon Johnston believes the squad has never been in a stronger position during his time in the role than it is now ahead of the 2020 Inter-Provincial Series.

Johnston was appointed in October 2016 and helped the Knights pick up their first piece of silverware in six years when they won the Inter-Provincial Trophy last season.

In the 13-man squad that was released by Cricket Ireland on Friday, there are no fewer than 11 senior Irish internationals, including captain Gary Wilson and Paul Stirling, who will be available for the opening game on August 20 against the North West Warriors.

With the calibre of player at his disposal, it is no surprise that Johnston feels this is the most talented squad he has been involved with.

“As long as everybody pulls up fit, it’s as strong as we’ve been since I was involved,” he said.

“I think we have all of our bases covered so as long as everybody can pull up fit, which I’m confident they will, then we should be in really good shape.

“I’m very happy with the balance and we have a few new faces in so I’m excited to see what happens.”

The new face that was named in the 13-man squad is Ross Adair, who has started life in the top-flight with CSNI in blistering form.

Adair moved to the Stormont club from Holywood during the winter and most recently smashed 92 from 38 balls in a league victory against Carrickfergus last weekend.

The 26-year-old played for the Emerging Knights last season and scored 129 runs in two innings during the recent intra-squad practice games.

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Ross Adair. ©CricketEurope

“He adds a couple of things but for anyone that has watched him it’s just the cleanness of ball-striking,” added Johnston.

“It’s a bit of an x-factor and I know some people think he’s smashing it at the start of the year and that’s why he’s in but he played two Emerging games last year and smashed it.

“He trained with us over the winter and we were all so impressed with him. It’s not just a flash in the pan from him.

“When we brought him into the Emerging games I know there was some surprise because he was playing in Section One but he was getting a hundred every other game nearly.

“He is a modern T20 player. It’s raw but the ball-striking is brilliant, he’s a really good fielder and he bowls some handy spin.

“If you’re coming in from the cold and looking at a guy who hits a big ball, fields well and bowls good spin, you’ve got the makings of a very good player there.”

Adair is just one option that Johnston could go with at the top of the order alongside Stirling in the opening game before a new combination will be needed for the remainder of the Twenty20 matches due to Stirling’s T20 Blast commitments with Northants.

With James McCollum, Shane Getkate and Ruhan Pretorius also named in the squad, the competition for a spot opening the batting is fierce.

“With James McCollum and the changes he has made to his white ball game – I think people forget that he opened for us in the competition last year and did a brilliant job striking at 140+,” said Johnston.

“Gets can do it, Ruhan could do it, I’ll tell you that Mark Adair can do it and a guy that we haven’t named that’s scoring a lot of runs that could do it is Chris Dougherty.

“It’s a credit to the boys that there is a real competition for places there and it’s a great problem to have.”

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Shane Getkate. ©CricketEurope

McCollum and Wilson were named in the Ireland squad that travelled to England recently for a three-game ODI series but neither were called upon on matchday.

Getkate was unfortunate to not make the touring party and while they have nothing to prove to anyone, Johnston believes there is an added fire burning inside.

“They’ve nothing to prove because they are quality performers and are where they are, but you can see a bit of fire in their eyes.

“They always have been hungry but I think if they needed any motivation then they have it even more. It’s great to see.”

On the bowling front, the Knights appear to have every base covered with the raw pace of David Delany mixed with the skill of Mark Adair, control of Graeme McCarter and two classy spinners in Jacob Mulder and James Cameron-Dow.

You can often tell just how strong a squad is by how good the players that have been left out are and by that measure the Knights are in a fantastic spot.

“The good thing is that everyone we’ve picked wants to play at a higher level,” said Johnston.

“There are a lot of guys scoring runs at club level who are available if we need them and we’ve had good conversations with them that they mightn’t be looking to play for Ireland so the priority should go to the guys that really want to be professional cricketers.

“I’ve watched Ally Shields bat beautifully so it’s a nice problem to have when you have guys playing well.”

The overriding emotion for Johnston is one of excitement after the amount of time he and his squad of players have had to wait to get back onto the field of play.

“We are excited about it.

“Myself and Wilson have had a good chat about the way we want to play and we are looking to build on the smart, aggressive cricket we played last year and I’m excited to see where it goes.

“Most teams try to be aggressive in T20 cricket but Gary brought in a real edge of playing smart cricket as well.

“I’m excited to see where we can go with it.”

Northern Knights

  • T20 squad: Gary Wilson (capt), Paul Stirling, James McCollum, Harry Tector, Shane Getkate, Ruhan Pretorius, Mark Adair, Jacob Mulder, Graeme McCarter, David Delany, Ross Adair, Greg Thompson, James Cameron-Dow.

 

  • 50-over squad: Gary Wilson (capt), Paul Stirling, James McCollum, Harry Tector, Shane Getkate, Ruhan Pretorius, Mark Adair, Jacob Mulder, Graeme McCarter, David Delany, Marc Ellison, Neil Rock, James Cameron-Dow.

‘It was frightening’ – James Kennedy reflects on Adair and Ellison exploits

It took CSNI just 14 overs to chase down 166 against Carrickfergus last weekend as they secured a nine-wicket Robinson Services Cup victory.

George Munsey (80 from 42) helped visiting Carrick set a more than competitive total of 165/7 but it turned out to be nowhere near enough as Ross Adair (92 from 38) and Marc Ellison (59* from 37) put on 156 for the first wicket.

The two teams hit 28 fours and 20 sixes between them with the CSNI opening duo responsible for 25 of the boundaries in an afternoon that the bowlers will want to forget.

“It was frightening,” said captain James Kennedy.

“There was some good clean ball-striking.

“They compliment each other very well at the top of the order and they score their runs in very different areas.

“As the scorecards have proven, they are a handful for most bowlers. If you bowl it in their area they are going to punish you.”

Adair has wasted no time in showing everyone what he is all about after a winter move from Holywood.

He has also impressed with the ball and while it can take some players a period of time to settle into a new club, Kennedy knew from very early on that the 26-year-old would have an immediate impact.

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Ross Adair. ©CricketEurope

“We knew straight away before a ball was struck that Ross has the quality to do that,” he added.

“He hasn’t let us down at all. His ball-striking was as clean as I have witnessed in a long time.

“He hit some which weren’t just sixes they were definitely worth 12!”

CSNI also welcomed back the Irish international duo of Stuart Thompson and Gary Wilson, who should now have a run of club fixtures mixed with their Inter-Provincial commitments.

Thompson finished with impressive figures of 3-21 from his four overs before hitting 9* batting at number three.

“It’s good to get the guys who are international standard back into your team,” said Kennedy.

“It just proves the depth that we have that we didn’t need to rely on either of them and they could have a comfortable welcome back with not too much to do.”

Their experience and quality helps add a real depth to a CSNI side who look like they have most bases covered in their bid to secure a play-off spot.

They’ve now won three league games on the trot after an opening day loss to favourites CIYMS, beating Instonians, Lisburn and Carrick.

Sitting in fourth on 12 points, Kennedy is delighted with the start but knows there are a number of tough tests on the horizon.

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Stuart Thompson made his competitive CSNI debut last weekend. ©CricketEurope

“We have played some good cricket,” he added.

“We even played good cricket against CI and were perhaps unlucky to fade away in the end and our challenge just faltered a bit.

“We’ve come back well and had three good results.

“There are still three tough games ahead in North Down, Woodvale and Waringstown.

“The thing with T20 is that you might think you’re doing well but one bad over can really change and determine the outcome of the game.”

North Down will visit Stormont on Saturday and are a team in equally good form, sitting third on net run-rate but the same amount of points as CSNI and the winner of the game will put themselves in a really strong position for a semi-final spot.

CSNI become the latest team that has to solve the Paul Stirling conundrum after the Irish international made his North Down debut last weekend in their LVS Twenty20 Cup semi-final win over Waringstown.

Kennedy has first hand experience of just how destructive the 29-year-old can be after watching a teenage Stirling smash 150 for Carrickfergus in June 2009 during his time playing at Ballymena.

“North Down are a very, very good side,” he said.

“They’ve obviously been strengthened by Paul coming into the ranks as well but they are a fantastic side even without him, so he has just added a new dimension to them completely.

“I played against Paul a long time ago when he played for Carrick against Ballymena and he scored 150 against us. Fingers crossed he doesn’t do that this time!”

Ross Adair on form, mindset and his Northern Knights call-up

It has been quite the month for Ross Adair.

The 26-year-old finally got to make his long-awaited debut for CSNI in July after moving from Holywood, has scored 129 runs in two Northern Knights practice games and now has been called up to the senior team for their Inter-Provincial Twenty20 campaign which starts on August 20 against the North West Warriors.

It has been a rapid acceleration for Adair who was playing in Section One last season and has still only played four top-flight league games this season.

His talent and brutal ball-striking has been there to see for many years now but with rugby playing a starring role, cricket had to take a backseat and Adair has previously been limited in the amount he can play each summer.

Now retired from professional rugby, he has been able to spend more time on the cricket field with great success.

Adair scored 92 off 38 balls in CSNI’s Robinson Services Cup victory over Carrickfergus at the weekend, smashing six fours and eight sixes during his hour-long stay at the crease as he shared a first-wicket partnership of 156 with Marc Ellison (59*) on their way to chasing 166 in just 14 overs.

“We had nothing to lose so you can go out with a fresh head,” he said.

“There’s no fear. It’s trying to find a line between the fear of getting out and throwing your wicket away.

“I know where my scoring shots are and if the ball is pitched in a certain area I will hopefully try and hit it for a four or six.

“There are some shots I just wouldn’t play and if I did get out to one of those shots I would be annoyed.

“Elly was smoking it at one end so if you have two batsmen going hard at either end, it’s tough to bowl at.”

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Adair batting in a pre-season friendly against Carrickfergus. ©CricketEurope

Adair appears to be a very relaxed individual who likes to keep it simple and doesn’t get tangled up in any sort of expectation or pressure.

The 2020 season has been reduced to solely Twenty20 cricket which has undoubtedly helped bring the best out of Adair, but he says even in the longer formats not much would be different in terms of his approach to the game.

“I was anxious about it to start with because I wasn’t sure how I would get on,” he said of stepping up to a higher level.

“Twenty20 really suits me but even if it was 50 overs, I wouldn’t be changing too much. I would still try and play my shots even if it was 50 overs.

“Sometimes it comes off and others it doesn’t, and that’s just the way it is.

“I think cricket is very mindset-orientated and if you can switch it up and go between formats then it’s even better.

“White ball cricket in general suits me better than anything red ball, which was kind of a pull to playing in the Premier League because you don’t play much white ball cricket in the lower leagues.”

A promotion to Inter-Provincial level came much quicker than even he expected with Adair more focused on securing a spot in his club side rather than looking too far up the pyramid.

His run of performances have left the Knights selectors no option but to pick him and he’s among the contenders to open the batting alongside Paul Stirling in the opening game.

He will be in action on Thursday, playing for a Northern side against their Southern counterparts at Wallace Park before another fixture at Malahide on Monday, which acts as the perfect warm-up for a potential debut.

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Ross Adair. ©CricketEurope

“If I’m playing a sport, I want to play it at the highest level I can.

“That was the same in rugby – I always wanted to get to the highest possible level I could.

“I was just happy trying to get on the Civil team first and foremost because you can’t just walk into a club and expect to play.

“I’m not thinking too far ahead. I didn’t think I would be in the Knights even.

“I just thought I was coming to Civil to hit about in the Premier League for a season and then see where we go.

“I was involved in the Emerging stuff last year but I wasn’t expecting to be involved as much as I have been. I’m happy with how it’s gone and I’ve been really enjoying my cricket.

“I knew I was going to be playing in the North vs South games but it’s a bit surreal looking at the (Knights) squad.

“You’ve got 11 internationals plus four guys who are well-proven at that level and then there’s me.

“With it being a T20 tournament, it’s probably not a bad time to get me in the mix and give me a go.”

A call-up to the Knights means he could be back playing on the same team as younger brother and Irish international, Mark.

The last time that happened would have been in club cricket at Holywood but it’ll be slightly different if they were to share the same field over the course of the upcoming six-game tournament.

“Playing with your brother at any level is pretty good.

“The last time I would have played with him was at Holywood so any chance I get to play with Mark is always a bonus.

“It’s a good drive because the big brother doesn’t want to be outdone by his wee brother! I have to try and keep up with him.”

The sky is the limit for Adair right now if he can continue on a similar trajectory and keep churning out runs with more consistency.

Whatever happens, he will be heading into every game without fear.

“It’s always good to set goals but I’m very relaxed and am a ‘if it happens, it happens’ kind of guy.

“If I’m scoring runs that’s great or if I get out I can go again next week. It’s weird but it seems to be paying off for me.

“I feel like guys who go in without the fear of getting out can go and express themselves more.

“I can get a first baller and that’ll be the way it is but I could come off and get 60 off not many.

“It goes one of two ways and if it comes off you look good and if it doesn’t you don’t look great. It’s a risk but playing with that freedom definitely helps me.”

Northern Knights T20 squad (as first reported by the Belfast Telegraph): M Adair, R Adair, J Cameron-Dow, D Delany, M Ellison, S Getkate, G McCarter, J McCollum, J Manley, J Mulder, R Pretorius, P Stirling, H Tector, G Thompson, CJ van der Walt, G Wilson.

Nikolai Smith puts in another match-winning performance for Instonians

It was again Nikolai Smith that helped propel Instonians towards victory on Saturday as the Shaws Bridge side brought CIYMS’ unbeaten run to an end.

Smith, batting at number eight, came in with the score sitting at 82/6 but proceeded to smash 35* from 18 balls (one four, three sixes), putting on a partnership of 56 with James Hunter (22*) which got Instonians up to what turned out to be a winning total of 138/6.

The 27-year-old was also responsible for helping his side get over the line by three runs on the opening day of the season against Waringstown, scoring 58* that afternoon.

It has been a mixed season for Instonians with victories over CIYMS and Waringstown – two sides that have won the last five Twenty20 Cup’s between them combined with failing to chase 88 against CSNI while they were bowled out for 77 by North Down.

They will fancy their chances of going on a play-off run with the current top four teams now all out of the way and Smith will be key if they are to achieve that.

“The temptation all year has been to push him further up the order,” said captain Andrew White.

“I think he has understood and has been part of the planning in terms of making sure we maximise the opportunities for the younger players so that maybe in a year or two they are in a better place to perform more consistently.

“He has played his part in the victories that we have had and that’s been really encouraging from his point of view.”

Instonians are using this season as an opportunity to promote youth up the batting order with the likes of Jack Dickson getting a chance on Saturday while Oliver Metcalfe, Marcus Poskitt, Ben Rose and James Hunter also usually feature.

White didn’t even bat at the weekend, slotting himself in at nine and he says it’s about giving the younger crop the chance to put what they’ve learnt into action.

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James Hunter batting for Instonians against Waringstown. ©CricketEurope

“Sometimes people say you’re better having the experience in the middle rather than on the sideline, but these guys are old enough,” he added.

“We have 7 players that are 20 or under and I still think the majority of the guys have played enough cricket now where they have to take responsibility and put what they’ve learnt over the past couple of years into action.

“Sometimes you leave it up to them to work it out and at times they’ve responded and others they will come to you saying they should have done this or that, and that’s all part of what we see this year being about.

“I certainly don’t want to be batting nine for the rest of my playing career but this year lends itself to giving others that opportunity.”

James Magee also played a crucial role in the 10-run victory, picking up figures of 3-21 from his four overs, with that burst helping bring CI from 96-3 to 115-7.

“He’s bowling well,” said White.

“He’s one of those guys that is probably under-rated – not by those at the club but around the circuit.

“He went through a difficult patch a couple of years ago but he has won a lot of games for us over the years.

“He’s somebody that I trust to throw the ball to, like all of the bowlers on Saturday.

“There was probably a period where the trust wasn’t there but that’s gained through performances and they are all performing with the ball.

“It’s pretty straightforward captaining in the field at the moment because of their ability to lead when they have the ball in their hand. That has been a big plus for this season.

“Of course anybody on their day can go around the park, but as long as they are clear on what they want to do it makes my job easier.”

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James Magee. ©CricketEurope

There has been a change of wicketkeeper for Instonians this season with Olly Metcalfe taking over the gloves from brother James.

The 19-year-old has been looking to dedicate more time to a role that he carried out in youth cricket and White says he will be behind the stumps for the rest of the 2020 campaign.

“Olly always was a keeper coming up through the ranks and he feels he wants to dedicate more time to his wicket-keeping,” he added.

“James, his brother, is very supportive of him in doing that and they’ve shared the duties a bit at the start of the season but Olly will probably see the season out as our first choice wicketkeeper.

“James is still an integral part of the squad. It’s offering that opportunity to one of the guys who will hopefully be at Instonians for a long, long time.”

White is also Chair of National Men’s Selectors at Cricket Ireland and he watched on with delight as Ireland recorded a famous seven-wicket victory over England last Tuesday in Southampton.

“It was a hugely satisfying way to finish,” he said.

“The key thing from the squad’s perspective is that they have progressed from game one through.

“Speaking to the players, they were disappointed with the way we batted in games one and two but it was a great way to finish the series.

“It was a world class chase and a superb performance because England kept trying to come hard at us and we kept taking wickets.

“Stirling and Balbirnie were world class and we showed that on our day we are capable of beating the big teams, and I suppose it doesn’t come any bigger than England in England at the minute so I’m really delighted.”

Instonians host Woodvale in the Robinson Services Cup on Saturday.

Fixtures: CIYMS vs Waringstown; CSNI vs North Down; Instonians vs Woodvale; Lisburn vs Carrickfergus

Waringstown welcome James McCollum back for weekend fixtures

Waringstown will welcome Irish international James McCollum back for their double-header this weekend.

The Villagers host Lisburn in the Robinson Services Cup (12pm) tomorrow before Sunday’s LVS Twenty20 Cup semi-final against North Down (2pm), also at The Lawn.

McCollum has spent the last few weeks at the bio-secure Ageas Bowl in Southampton where he was part of a 22-man squad selected for a three-game series against England.

The 25-year-old wasn’t involved in any of the fixtures with selectors instead opting for Gareth Delany to partner Paul Stirling at the top of the order.

Due to a mix of international commitments and injury, McCollum was only able to make six appearances for his club in all competitions last season but underlined his class by scoring 140 from 108 balls in the Premier League against CSNI.

He should now get a run of club fixtures with no Ireland games on the calendar for the immediate future and all Inter-Provincial cricket taking place during the week.

Captain Lee Nelson is delighted to have McCollum back and says it will be a massive boost.

“It’s massive,” he said.

“It gives us that bit more depth to the order and obviously his record and ability speaks for itself so it’s great to have him back.”

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James McCollum batting for Ireland. ©CricketEurope

McCollum will be coming up against Ireland team-mates Stirling and Craig Young on Sunday in what will be a hotly contested cup clash.

It will be Stirling’s debut for his new club and Nelson says they will have to take any chance that he offers up.

“You can’t ignore the fact he is playing!” he added.

“We are going to have to try and attempt to at least come up with something.

“He has that much ability that I don’t think anyone can sit down and have a specific game-plan for anyone like that.

“We have to make sure we bowl our best balls and field to the best of our capabilities, and if we do get an opportunity we have to take it.”

One man that could be crucial early on is James Mitchell, who took 4-15 in a comfortable victory over Woodvale last Saturday.

The 23-year-old has started the season in fine form and bowled an impeccable final over in Waringstown’s Robinson Services Cup victory over North Down a couple of weeks ago.

“He seems to be getting fitter and stronger and that seems to be helping him,” said Nelson.

“Every year he seems to add an extra yard of pace and I think he has done that.

“He’s just getting a bit older and wiser. He’s doing really well and we have no complaints.”

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James Mitchell bowling. ©CricketEurope

Waringstown have an exceptional record in the competition and beat Sunday’s opposition in the 2017 and 2018 finals.

They’ve reached the final in every season since 2015 but Nelson knows to maintain that record they’ll have to perform somewhere near their best.

“North Down vs Waringstown games for me are still the biggest of the whole lot,” he added.

“The rivalry from down the years and I’m sure they would say the same that it’s the biggest game.

“There’s never a whole lot in them, especially in T20 cricket, so it certainly builds for an exciting game.

“I would imagine there’ll be a decent crowd in.

“We have always had a good record in this competition and realistically at home, it can be difficult for sides to come and win at The Lawn.

“We want to make sure that we make ourselves as difficult to beat as possible.

“We know they are a very good team with exceptional players in it, but we have to make sure that we make it difficult.”

 

Different format, same result for Chris Dougherty

Chris Dougherty has been one of the most consistent performers in the NCU for some time now and not much has changed about that at the start of the 2020 season.

Arriving at CIYMS in 2012, Dougherty entered the current campaign with just under 5000 club runs to his name in that time – a landmark he would have soared past by now.

Add in the over 200 dismissals he has been apart of behind the stumps, you get the picture of just how good he is and how important he is to what CI have built in recent times.

He finished the 2019 season with 916 runs in all competitions (the most of any non-overseas professional) and has kicked this one off with 191 more in four innings, including two half-centuries.

The 32-year-old has only been dismissed twice so holds an average of 95.5. A run machine.

At the heart of everything that the club achieve, Dougherty will again be crucial this season as they look to take another step towards defending their LVS Twenty20 Cup crown on Sunday with a semi-final against Lisburn.

Despite his own success and records, Dougherty continues to give the credit to his team-mates for giving him the platform to go about his business.

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Chris Dougherty. ©CricketEurope

“I do feel in good touch at the minute,” he said.

“It’s helped by the team that we have and I know that I can trust my team-mates to do their job and I know that if I do mine, I’ll get the support from them.

“It’s a really good position to be in having the players around me to support the role that I play.

“It’s a good side that we have and I’m trying to make the most of it.

“I’m taking it one game at a time and trying to cash in because you can have one or two failures then that’s it, so I’m trying to make the most of it.”

Dougherty is a batsman that likes to spend as much time in the middle as possible, working his way into an innings, which isn’t usually conducive to success in Twenty20 cricket, but he has made it work.

He has faced more balls than any of his team-mates in three of the four matches so far this season and he backs his ability, knowing if he can bat as deep as possible then it sets the team up for success.

“I enjoy it,” he added.

“Obviously you have to keep the score ticking along and when you get out of the powerplay it does become easier to rotate strike and you get your boundary options as well.

“I probably wouldn’t be renowned as the best striker of the ball but I still back myself to score at a run a ball or more.

“I love batting for long periods. 20 overs is still a long time.

“People think you have to go out there and hit from ball one but I see it as an opportunity to build an innings.

“I just try and bat for as long as I can and I know if I can do that I’ll finish with a good score.”

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CIYMS are reigning LVS T20 Cup champions. ©CricketEurope

CIYMS are the only unbeaten team in the Robinson Services Cup after winning their opening three matches and they’ll be looking to sustain that when they travel to Instonians on Saturday.

They have only lost three league games in the past two seasons and although a different format this time round, winning breeds confidence and that momentum can be hard to stop.

Victory in the Twenty20 Cup would see them enter another All-Ireland Twenty20 Finals Day which they won last season and that is motivation for the squad to keep performing.

“It’s a great feeling to have,” said Dougherty.

“We have a lot of confidence but we don’t get carried away with it at the same time.

“We take it game by game and see where it takes us at the end. If we keep winning games then we are going to go far in competitions.

“We enjoy the big games so each game from now on has a bit more on it.

“We will be looking to win on Sunday, get into another final and hopefully win it again.

“The boys are pretty keen to qualify for the All-Ireland T20 and for La Manga so that’s a big motivation for us.”

The Northern Knights have an embarrassment of riches in their side but not many top order batsmen have been performing with the consistency in club cricket that Dougherty has been in recent times.

He didn’t make a single appearance at Inter-Provincial level last season and his last outing came in September 2018, but if the phone calls and head coach Simon Johnston is on the other end, he says it’s something he would have to seriously consider but he hasn’t been giving it too much thought, instead focusing on the job at hand with CIYMS.

“I haven’t thought too much about it,” he added.

“My focus is on CI at the minute and scoring as many runs as possible for them.

“If I do get a phone call then that’s something I would need to consider.

“It’s hard for me to commit to the training and everything. I love playing for the Knights and it was always my goal to play at the highest level possible.

“If they were to give me a call then I would have to seriously consider playing again.

“They have a strong side with a lot of younger guys coming through and I know Johnty is keen to push them through, which is fair enough and it’s great seeing the likes of Harry Tector and everyone coming through.”