Armagh have announced the signing of South African Alexander Kok as their overseas professional for the 2020 Section One season.
Kok will replace Rohit Karanjkar at The Mall next season, with the 21-year-old used to batting in the top order mixed with handy off-spin.
Karanjkar scored 453 runs in his only season with Armagh at an average of 32.36 and picked up 23 wickets in total.
Kok currently plays for Delfos CC in the Gauteng Premier League and at Provincial level for Mpumalanga, who he recently represented at the CSA Provincial T20 Cup.
In those three matches, he scored 65 runs with a high score of 46 against Limpopo from 23 deliveries.
He currently averages 100 throughout the 2019-20 season in South Africa with a high score of 117* and has collected 15 wickets at an average of 12.53.
Kok is in the process of completing his Cricket South Africa Level 1 coaching qualification, so should be able to help the next generation of stars at Armagh progress and improve.
Armagh previously had a South African professional in 2018 in the shape of Shadley van Schalkwyk, and captain Matthew Steenson, who is set to continue for a sixth year at the helm, is looking forward to welcoming Kok to the club.
“Rohit had a good year, put in some match-winning performances and was a great guy. We wish him all the best,” he said.
“The club decided to go down a different route this year. Alexander is mad about cricket, mad to coach and is really keen to push on.
“I think he is going to bring a really positive attitude to the club and hopefully everyone buys into him and the way he plays cricket.
“We have his statistics and he’s obviously very talented. He’s a top order bat and bowls off-spin, so that isn’t going to go too far wrong in the NCU leagues.
“By all means, he hits a big ball and hopefully he will fit into our side. Jamie Rogers is coming back in to open the batting and he will fit in nicely.”
Armagh finished 7th in Section One last season following their relegation from the Robinson Services Premier League.
Both Donemana and Clontarf have their overseas professionals for the 2020 season.
North West outfit Donemana will be bolstered by the addition of South African Ferisco Adams while Leinster’s Clontarf have signed former Fox Lodge professional Marco Marais.
Adams has spent one season overseas with that coming in 2015 during a stint at Cherry Tree CC in the Lancashire League where he scored 706 runs at an average of 44.13.
A batting all-rounder, the 30-year-old currently plays for Boland in his homeland and has competed in 37 First Class matches, hitting 1747 runs at an average of 30.12 and high score of 149.
He has also picked up 108 First Class wickets with his pace bowling at an average of 25.31.
Marais will be well-known to Irish cricket supporters after spending both the 2015 and 2016 campaigns with Fox Lodge.
The South African had a lot of success in the North West, scoring 1336 runs at an average of 78 in his first season before following it up with 916 runs and average of 70.46 in 2016.
He joined ECB Southern Premier League side Alton CC for the 2018 season but his time in Hampshire was cut short due to injury, leaving after 12 innings where he scored 393 runs.
The 26-year-old, who plays for Eastern Province, scored the fastest triple century in First Class history back in November 2017 when he reached 300* from 191 balls, which included 35 fours and 13 sixes.
Both players have been placed by agency WSX Cricket.
Instonians youth coach Steven Crothers was awarded with a Volunteers in Sport Award at Tuesday’s annual Federation of Irish Sport’s ceremony at Farmleigh House in Phoenix Park.
For the past 12 years, Crothers has played a significant role in the development of the youth section at Instonians, helping to bring through many first team members that have gone on to receive international or inter-provincial honours at a variety of levels.
The 2019 season was a special one for the youth section at Shaws Bridge, with the Under-15’s winning the Graham Cup and All-Ireland, the Under-13’s won both the Banoge Cup and All-Ireland title while the Under-11’s reached the All-Ireland final after winning their league and Quoile Cup.
Instonians haven’t been shy in giving opportunities to their young players in the first team, with Oliver Metcalfe opening the batting now for the past two seasons while the likes of James Hunter, James Metcalfe and Ben Rose are all established in the team.
Crothers has also worked in a variety of roles, and the award comes as just rewards for the hard work put in over the years.
“Steven has held roles including coaching, social media manager, youth convenor and regional coach for his club Instonians,” read the citation.
“He devotes a huge number of hours to coach cricket and nurture the upcoming youth talent at the club. He is passionate about boys and girls participating and enjoying the sport regardless of ability or experience.
“Steven coaches more than cricket, he teaches the kids life skills – confidence, resilience, being part of a team, trust. He is definitely a role model and encourages the kids to try new things, take risks, and engage in multiple sports.
“With Steven’s approach, he has developed great loyalty with the parents and this in turn has helped drive the family and community element of the club.”
Not resting on their laurels and success, Instonians will also have winter academies as noted by the Federation of Irish Sport.
“Steven has also set up a winter Cricket Academy at Under-11 and Under- 13 age groups, aimed at the Performance-level cricketers to further develop their skills, and we have record numbers on regional squads currently,” it continued.
“The winter sessions play a big part in this. Professional coaches and players have also been engaged by Steven to make this a fantastic experience.”
It’s time for our second check-in with the overseas professionals that will be plying their trade in the Robinson Services Premier League next season.
Six clubs have confirmed their overseas professional for the 2020 campaign – Lisburn, Waringstown, Woodvale, Carrickfergus, Instonians and North Down.
Four of those have players currently competing in either South Africa or India, so lets take a look at how they are getting on.
Pat Botha – Woodvale
Woodvale moved early to bring in Pat Botha as overseas professional for their first top-flight campaign in a decade, and they will be delighted to see how he is playing for Free State.
Botha, who spent three seasons with Carrickfergus, has been on absolute fire with the bat, scoring 191 against Boland on November 7 in a First Class fixture.
Batting at number four in a three-day game. captain Botha scored his runs from 196 deliveries and put on a stand of 209 for the third wicket with Paballo Mogoera (152) as Free State won by an innings and 281 runs.
The 29-year-old followed that score up with 57 three days later against the same opposition and he has also registered another century (106*) and two half-centuries since the start of October.
Shadley van Schalkwyk – Waringstown
Van Schalkwyk will be returning to the NCU for his second campaign in 2020 after Waringstown announced the South African, who was at Armagh in 2018, would be replacing Haseeb Azam.
The 31-year-old plays for the same Free State outfit as Botha, and while his team-mate has been dominating with the bat, van Schalkwyk has been impressing with the ball.
Possessing fiery pace with the new ball, van Schalkwyk picked up figures of 5/25 against Boland on Sunday and also picked up another five-wicket haul in a List A fixture against Western Province in October, which included the scalp of CSNI’s overseas professional Andre Malan.
Van Schalkwyk has chipped in with runs along the way too, hitting 38 against KwaZulu-Natalin September and 29 against Boland last weekend.
Faiz Fazal – Lisburn
Fazal has been busy playing (and captaining) for Vidarbha in India and has contested over 10 matches since the start of October.
The Indian international impressed in his first campaign in the NCU with Lisburn in 2019, averaging over 50 and he has shown yet again his ability back in his homeland.
In a T20 fixture against Tripura at Thiruvananthapuram, Fazal hit 54 from 40 deliveries at the top of the order as he led his side to a comfortable nine-wicket triumph in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy group game.
Fazal also registered another half-century (58) in a seven-wicket Vijay Hazare Trophy win over Baroda on October 15, with Indian internationals Yusuf Pathan and Krunal Pandya on the opposing side.
Jacques Snyman – Carrickfergus
Only Andre Malan scored more runs than Jacques Snyman during the 2019 season and he has continued that vein of form for Northern Cape.
Since the last time we checked in with Snyman, the explosive batsman has scored two massive centuries in the space of a week against KwaZulu-Natal and Northerns at Kimberley.
After hitting 111* from 73 deliveries batting at number three (11 fours, 7 sixes) in a nine-wicket win over KwaZulu-Natal on November 3, the 25-year-old went even bigger on Sunday, smashing 135 from 124 balls (14 fours and 5 sixes) in another win for a side that also includes Obus Pienaar.
As if that wasn’t enough, Snyman also picked up figures of 5/33 in the same match to cap off the perfect all-round performance.
Having gathered a lot of experience in both hemispheres, just how beneficial can it be for young Irish players to go abroad for a spell?
“There is massive benefit in a player applying his trade abroad,” said Yelverton.
“To experience something different, and challenging yourself in a different environment. We learn and grow as players and coaches through experiences that you will either gain from or learn from and that is exactly what going overseas and playing abroad is all about as a young player.
“It gives you an opportunity to experience different conditions and is a great life experience too.”
The immediate difference for any young player going abroad will be the warmer climate and different conditions in the Southern Hemisphere.
“First and foremost it will be getting use to the heat, training in 30+ degree weather is not easy even for us locals,” added Yelverton.
“So its first understanding how your body responds to training in that heat. You will fatigue much quicker when you aren’t used to it leading to concentration levels lowering.
“So to bowl longer spells, batting for longer periods and fielding become more challenging for players coming out to South Africa, especially as we head into the December to March periods as the humidity also plays a massive factor.
“Then a players need to understand a team can be multi-cultural so team dynamics can be very different sometimes so it is also adapting to this if they are here playing.
“There could be conversations going on in three different languages on the field which can be difficult to get ones head around.”
The hope of any young player going abroad will be that they can develop their game further and then bring those skills back to their home clubs.
As Yelverton explains, some players can really use the experience to bounce back from difficult seasons at home and develop at Futura.
“We see a change in their thinking and mindset the most and when you get that part right it becomes much easier for us to start making necessary adjustments to their fundamentals as they are open and receptive to the process of change,” he said.
“One example we have from the programme we had at the beginning of the year was a player who had a poor 2018 season in the UK scoring 340 runs at an average of 20. He returned to the UK in 2019 scoring 846 runs at an average of 44.53.
“We have had some outstanding results like the one mentioned from players who attend these camps and we always aim to stay in touch with these players and help develop their careers.”
A productive winter period in a different environment can undoubtedly set those young players involved up for a big season back at home, and there are some recent examples of that with the likes of James McCollum returning from stints in Australia to become an established international star.
Adjusting to varying conditions and demands can only make a player better in the long run, and Yelverton believes the impact can be immediate in their home campaigns if they are willing to put the work in.
“In a way yes I think it does as it really gives the cricketers a better understanding about who they are as players,” he added.
“However it all depends on the effort the player is putting in wherever they are to learn. Being adaptable is one the challenges a player faces when they play in different conditions and adapting their game to suit different conditions is important.
“Playing against different opposition also opens you up to different bowlers and batters and how they play the game. If a player can come over and be receptive and learn from how players have been successful in those conditions and understand how to apply it to their cricket, they put themselves in a position to be successful when heading back home.
“I always say to players what makes batters who score runs or take wickets consistently in the league season in and season out? They always focus on what they do well and maximize those areas as often as they can, they work out conditions quickly and how to bat or bowl in them.
“This can only happen through experience so yes I do believe it can have a significant effect on a player’s season back home.”
Yelverton has long had a desire and enjoyment for helping players to improve, starting with his brother in their back garden right through to his current role at Futura.
Along the way he has spent time with the likes of Clifton College, Crusaders Cricket Club. Berea Rovers and also with North Down – a place where he made many good memories.
“North Down is a great club and I thoroughly enjoyed my time with them,” he said.
“I have made some very good friends there and in the NCU in general and still keep in contact with many of them.
“It was great to see how well they did this past season and I know the great work that is being done behind the scenes to develop cricket there and I don’t think it will be long before there is silverware back at North Down.
“One thing I will say I enjoyed the most on a cricket perspective while coaching in the NCU was the passion and intensity every game has. I also enjoyed the odd Guinness!”
Based in Durban, Futura is a sporting agency that represents current Irish international cricketer Shane Getkate while also being involved in rugby, football and hockey.
“FSA is a sports management and coaching company,” explains Yelverton.
“Our High Performance camps is where we host both local and overseas players who come through to us to develop their game. We currently run two-week high performance camps in Durban.
“FSA have been in the sports management business going on six years now and represent players locally and abroad from international cricket to amateur cricket.
“I have had great experiences coaching at FSA, it was FSA who afforded me the opportunity to head to Northern Ireland for the first time.
“My position is as Head Coach of the High Performance camps as well as working with our Prodigy to Pro Program which is our mentorship program for young up and coming cricketers between the ages of 16-19 who are looking to take their cricket to a professional level.”
Ireland will take their place at the 2020 T20 World Cup in Australia next October after securing a spot at the tournament through the recent qualifying competition in the UAE.
Finishing top of Group B ahead of Oman, United Arab Emirates, Hong Kong, Canada, Jersey and Nigeria, the Irish eventually finished third in the qualifying tournament that was won by the Netherlands.
It was very much a case of mission accomplished as Gary Wilson’s side picked up four wins in their six group matches to secure an automatic spot at the showpiece event next year.
Although their main goal of winning the whole competition didn’t come to fruition, Wilson is just pleased his side progressed.
“We went there wanting to win the competition, so firstly it’s disappointing that we weren’t able to do that,” he said.
“Having been so used to playing those qualifying tournaments and particularly in the UAE, we have always had a good record there. In years gone by you could have penciled us in for a final spot at least, so to not do that is disappointing.
“I don’t want to harp on about how inexperienced we are but the fact of the matter is we have a lot of young players and with inexperience comes performances being a bit up and down.
“I think you saw that throughout the competition with one day being very good and the next not so good. At the end of the day, we have qualified and it was job done.”
Their reward for getting through the qualifying process is a spot in Group A in the first round alongside Sri Lanka, Oman and Papua New Guinea, with the top two then entering the Super 12 stage where the world’s elite will await.
It was no cakewalk for Ireland in the Middle East, suffering losses to the UAE and Canada before topping the group.
“It was definitely the strongest qualifying tournament I’ve played in,” added Wilson.
“I’m not just talking about the other teams that qualified, but right the way down from 1-14. Obviously it was Nigeria’s first attempt at the qualifiers so they didn’t have the strength that the other teams had.
“If you look at the teams that didn’t qualify, Singapore turned over Scotland, Jersey turned over Oman and Canada turned us over, so it was a very closely fought competition.
“It’s one with a lot of pressure and high stakes that it’s difficult to play with the freedom you’d usually get in a T20 match.
“Also, I think the wickets weren’t conducive to going in and clearing the ropes all the time. If you got 140, you were in the game and we had that in the back of our minds. Unfortunately for us, we didn’t seem to chase so well which is unusual for us because we have chased so well in the past.”
This was the culmination of a busy 2019 for Ireland’s T20 side, who also won a Tri-Series involving Scotland and the Netherlands in Dublin before flying to Oman for another warm-up competition ahead of the qualifiers.
Undoubtedly a tense and unforgiving schedule, those sort of experiences will surely bring the group closer together and Wilson says everyone was looking out for each other.
“It’s been really intense,” he said.
“I think those two series were really good for us before the qualifiers and it allowed us to get what we felt was our strongest side. Some people really stuck their hands up going into the qualifiers, so although it was intense it was definitely needed.
“I said at the start that we needed to get around each other, especially if things weren’t going well and really look after each other over the next six weeks because a qualifying tournament is intense.
“People can get worried about qualification and external factors, so it was just important we stuck together. I think we did that throughout the tournament.
“Some results went our way but I don’t think you can top a group without deserving too over a six game period.
“Although it was on run-rate, I think we deserved to go through in the first place and unfortunately we ran into a very strong Netherlands side in the semi-final.”
It was a real team effort that got Ireland over the line, with all 15 players originally named in the qualifying squad playing at least one game.
The starting XI was fairly settled with slight adjustments made for different matches, but Wilson feels the squad is now at a place where everyone has the capability to produce big performances.
“I said right the way through that we were really happy with the bench,” he added.
“It was the first time in a long time that we felt anyone could play and could have a good claim to play. It was a real plus to be able to call on guys.
“Simi (Singh) came in and got man of the match in the final game and showed what he can do. Lorcan Tucker was unlucky – he could have played in a couple of games as a batter for sure. The guys attitude throughout the tournament was first class.”
Mark Adair was arguably the star of Ireland’s campaign alongside Paul Stirling, with the 23-year-old all-rounder picking up 12 wickets throughout the competition to bring his 2019 tally to 48 from 27 matches.
That is more than any other Irish player this year, beating out Boyd Rankin by one, and it has been a whirlwind six months for the Northern Knights man who only made his international debut in May.
“I’m really pleased for him,” said Wilson.
“He has came in and really put his hand up and his attitude has been first class since he came into the squad. It’s great to see someone new coming into the squad doing so well.
“Him, Gareth Delany, David Delany, Harry Tector – those are all young guys that will benefit so much from this.
“While they don’t have the experience right now, I really think in one, two or three years time you’ll have a seriously experienced and therefore good team. You will really see the rewards of playing these guys now.
“They are doing it at the minute, and Mark did it in almost every game which is incredible for someone of his age.
“It’s just about getting more consistent for those guys and once that happens, adding to the consistency of other guys around them, we will have a really good team.”
Skipper Wilson came in for criticism throughout a large majority of the past couple of months, with many calling for him to be dropped from the side.
In 2019, he averaged 14.24 across all formats but he is more than confident that he will be able to turn that around.
“Criticism is part of it,” he said.
“I try not to read too much and certainly don’t go looking for it, but when you get tagged in something on Twitter it’s difficult to avoid.
“I give my best and I’m aware I didn’t score the runs I wanted to this year. I give my best in all areas of the game whether that’s leadership or runs, and I’m very confident that I’ll be able to turn my own form around.
“Although I don’t think I’m playing particularly badly, sometimes in T20 cricket things can go very quickly and I feel like I’m hitting the ball well in the nets.
“I have a good period of six or seven weeks now to work on some aspects of my game before the West Indies and I’m confident I can get some runs there. I don’t think you’re ever as good or bad as people say you are.
“Criticism is part of it and all I can do when I get the opportunity is give my best both from captaincy and playing point of view.
“I feel we have brought the team forward in terms of T20 cricket in the past 18 months, so that’s pleasing.”
Ireland have a jam-packed 2020 schedule starting in January with six matches against the West Indies (three ODI, three T20) before further away tours against Sri Lanka (one Test match), Afghanistan (one Test and three T20s) and Zimbabwe (one Test and five T20’s).
Graham Ford’s side will have played at least four Test’s, 12 ODI’s and 22 T20 matches before the T20 World Cup rolls around on October 18 and Wilson is excited about the year ahead.
“The ODI’s start in the first or second week of January and then it’s on to the T20’s,” he added.
“We go from there to Sri Lanka, India and Zimbabwe before we have any home series. I’m looking forward to it and it’s always a great privilege getting to play for Ireland, so it’ll be no different in January.”
When the 2020 season rolls around, Lee Nelson will once again be in charge of Waringstown.
Having enjoyed a successful three-season stint as captain between 2014-2016 in which the Villagers won Irish Senior Cup and Premier League titles, Nelson will return to the role after replacing Greg Thompson.
Thompson steps down after leading Waringstown in one of their most successful periods ever, helping the club become the most successful Irish Senior Cup outfit of all-time and he picked up seven trophies in three seasons.
Those boots will be big to fill at The Lawn, but Nelson, who paid tribute to his predecessor, is excited by the challenge.
“I probably always knew when I stopped doing it previously that I would take it on again.,” he said.
“Greg obviously did a great job there and I’m delighted to be back. It was a fairly easy decision.
“I had an inkling towards the end of the season that Greg was going to be finishing at the end of the year so I kind of had myself prepared for it. It was fairly straightforward.
“It was probably Waringstown’s most successful spell ever and Greg was at the helm. It’s going to be big boots to fill but I feel I’ll be capable enough to do it.”
Nelson was 23 when he was named captain back in October 2013 ahead of the 2014 campaign and he will be looking to replicate how successful that first stint was.
“We won the All-Ireland at The Lawn which is probably the best day for a lot of us,” he reflected.
“To win an All-Ireland at home was special and that remains as a very strong memory for us. We won a league title, won the T20 and won several trophies.
“To be honest, I would nearly take winning the same amount again! If the next period goes as well I would be happy enough.”
While reaching a fifth consecutive Irish Senior Cup final last year and losing out to CIYMS in the Twenty20 decider at The Lawn, Waringstown didn’t fire on all cylinders and put in some poor performances.
With the level of success achieved over a five-year period where they cemented their place as the best side in Ireland, that blip can be forgiven and Nelson will be looking to win more silverware in 2020.
“Any team can have a bad year,” he added.
“We still got to an All-Ireland and T20 final and people still class it as a bad year. We missed James McCollum and Greg for quite a substantial period of the season.
“James only played six games for us and that’s tough to try and replace. You can’t keep missing two or three of your better players and just bring others in and expect them to do the same job – it just doesn’t work.
“That’s just a sign of the times and we are going to have to live with that and try to counteract it the best way we can.”
With McCollum’s international emergence and Ireland’s packed schedule throughout 2020, it is unlikely the 24-year-old will be able to play much of a role at club level again next season.
Those runs were desperately missed last season, so will Waringstown be on the lookout for new players to help fill that void?
“We are in no different situation to any other club probably,” said Nelson.
“Every club is trying to bring people in and seeing where they can strengthen. It’s not just easy to click your fingers and say we will have him, him and him. It’s not as easy as that.
“We are probably trying to have a look around and see where we can strengthen, but there’s no guarantee that you can do that. We have to get our own house in order and improve on where we went wrong last year.
“Collectively, if we can improve 10-15% each I can’t see us having too many problems.”
They have already moved to bring in Shadley van Schalkwyk as their overseas professional, replacing Haseeb Azam who was at the club last season.
Van Schalkwyk, who scored 608 runs at an average of 43.43 for Armagh in 2018, will almost certainly thrive in Waringstown’s middle order while his pace will provide many problems for NCU batsmen all season long.
When Nelson took over as captain, there was only one man he wanted to be their professional and he couldn’t be happier to have the South African on board.
“It’s brilliant,” he added.
“When we sat down at the end of last season, I made it very clear to the chairman who I wanted to have and who I wanted to get, and to be fair to him he went and got him. I’m delighted with that.”
With their dominance in recent times, it has been tough for young players to break through consistently and it led the likes of Morgan Topping, Aaron Wright and Jonny Waite to leave in order to gain more first team opportunities.
The next crop of youngsters will be looking to make their mark in an established and experienced side, and Nelson says it’s important they continue to develop their own stars.
“There are a couple of guys that we let go for a period of time because we just couldn’t get them into the team,” he said.
“Every couple of years we have been able to bring through boys of a certain standard, but when we had that team it just wasn’t possible to do it because there was no one you could leave out at the time.
“The conveyor belt remains strong at Waringstown and we have the likes of Jack Carson playing at Sussex. He’s a Waringstown kid from U11 upwards and we are still able to produce them.
“It’s just at times we have struggled to get the next crop through and whether that is something we will be able to do this year or not is another thing.
“We have to keep producing our own players or the club won’t survive.”