After making his Northern Knights debut in their two-run win over the North West Warriors last Thursday, CJ van der Walt is determined to work harder than ever to maintain his place in the squad.
The 23-year-old marked his maiden NCU season with Carrickfergus in 2019 by being named Premier League All-Rounder of the Year, scoring 403 runs and picking up 20 wickets in the league.
He ended the campaign with 653 runs at an average of almost 39 and 30 wickets in all competitions, helping the Middle Road side to their first Irish Senior Cup quarter-final.
Since moving to Northern Ireland, van der Walt has dreamed of stepping up to Inter-Provincial level and that’s something that has now become reality but it came as a shock to him that he was even included in the 13-man squad for the game.
“We got the message saying who was in the 13-man squad and I didn’t expect to even be in that,” he said.
“I haven’t had the greatest start to the season at club level. It was one of those things I’ve been really waiting for since I moved here.
“We rocked up at the ground and there were 12 of us so it was most likely going to be between me and Josh Manley.
“I kind of knew that I would probably play with the rain and going with another spin option might be the way.
“We were warming up and Johnty came over to me and said I was playing. I was sitting by myself doing some stretches and I couldn’t believe it.
“It was something that I was waiting for and now it has happened. It was something really special for me.”
Van der Walt, who is in the squad again for Thursday’s clash with Munster Reds, shared the field at Bready last week with eight internationals, including the likes of Paul Stirling and Gary Wilson who each spent the best part of a decade on the County scene in England.
For a young player like van der Walt, being around that sort of experience is invaluable and he’s determined to learn as much as he can from the more senior players in order to improve his own game.
“My mentality when I went into it was that every opportunity I get I’m going to have to grab with both hands and use it.
“All of the players have much more experience than me so being in a team like that you look at how they go about their game and what they are doing to improve.
“You look at scenarios that you might struggle in, for example maybe bowling in T20’s, and you get to see how players who are at an international level go about it.
“You want to soak everything in and see how they go about their game and how they maintain their level.
“I remember saying to myself that it doesn’t matter where I bat but if I get the opportunity to get into the middle I need to use it.
“Being in the squad around such class players, I was just telling myself to soak up everything I could, speak to the guys and just see how they go about their games.
“I want to use my opportunity. I’m going to have to work harder now.
“I’ve got to the point where I got what I wanted but I need to rebuild now and start from the bottom.
“Those guys play so well because they put in the effort and that’s something I want to do and maintain.”
It hasn’t gone quite to plan at club level during the shortened 2020 season with the bat for van der Walt, hitting 81 runs in six innings but signs have been more promising on the bowling front, picking up seven wickets for winless Carrick.
“First of all, I think everybody had the mentality of there being no cricket this season because it didn’t look like there would be,” said van der Walt on where it has gone wrong.
“We were caught on the back foot with not much work going into the preparation.
“We had a really good pre-season before Covid and we were all positive, all at training sessions and all going hard and there’s definitely a lack of that during the season.
“I think we have been caught on the back foot going into the season and we had two games at the start of the season where we didn’t play the best cricket but could have won.
“We don’t have the amount of T20 cricketers than some other squads would have. T20 cricket is completely different to 50-over cricket and I don’t think we adapted quickly to that.
“It didn’t go our way and we have just been caught on the back foot with that.”
You would have got long odds on Carrick not picking up a victory across the duration of the Robinson Services Cup and they have one more chance to put that right on Saturday against Instonians.
Van der Walt believes a win this weekend would help boost morale as they head into pre-season to get ready for another campaign in 2021.
“We had a chat and going into next season there will be changes and we will be going hard.
“We want to make sure we are totally prepared.
“We want to just get that one win under the belt because that would give everyone a bit of positivity when there has been a lot of negativity.
“There hasn’t been many great performances but it has been people chipping in here and there.
“At the end of the day, if you want to play Premier League cricket that won’t be good enough.
“We play our last game this weekend and we will be pushing forward trying to get a win. We want some points on the board and to change the perspective a bit.”