Paul Stirling set to make North Down debut on Sunday

Paul Stirling will make his North Down debut on Sunday when they travel to The Lawn for their LVS Twenty20 Cup semi-final against Waringstown.

Fresh off scoring 142 from 128 balls in Ireland’s seven-wicket victory over England on Tuesday, Stirling is one of the best Twenty20 batsmen in the world and signed for North Down in June but hasn’t been able to play yet due to international commitments.

He won’t be at Ballygomartin Road for a Robinson Services Cup clash with Woodvale on Saturday but his Ireland team-mate Craig Young will be with the fast bowler available for both games this weekend.

Young was the standout performer with the ball for Ireland across the three-game series, picking up six wickets, including the scalp of opener Jason Roy in every game.

It is a massive boost to North Down who have kicked off their season with three wins from four matches and captain Alistair Shields is delighted to have both on board for the weekend.

“If you’d have given me a choice to have him for one game this weekend then it would have been Sunday given that it’s a cup semi-final and that’s the only place we have lost so far,” he said of Stirling.

“It’s a big boost for us. We have Youngy available both days. We are looking forward to having a bit of extra pace in the attack.

“He’s a step up from what club cricketers are used to and I know in a couple of games he bowled last year that you could see the pace does funny things to a batter’s head.

“It makes you make different decisions than you normally would so it’s great to have him.

“He’s mad keen to get going and was straight away keen to know when our fixtures were and when he could play. We are looking forward to having them both back this weekend.”

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Craig Young celebrates a wicket last season. ©CricketEurope

The acquisition of Stirling is one of the biggest and most high-profile in the NCU in recent times and although he may not be available for long with a potential T20 Blast campaign in England coming up, Shields says the whole club are excited about his arrival.

“It’ll be great if we can get a couple of home games for the guys to perform in,” he added.

“I think we have a run of away games now. We are absolutely looking forward to having someone of his calibre and Youngy too pulling on the North Down shirt.

“For our lads to learn from them is great and we will be looking to take their knowledge as well as their ability on the pitch.

“It’s something for the team to look forward to but also the whole club and I’m sure we will get a couple of good crowds when the guys are involved.”

Stirling will strengthen a top-order that already contains the likes of Ruhan Pretorius and Shields himself, who has got his season off to a good start by scoring 122 runs across three Robinson Services Cup games.

With a bit of a different role this season, Shields has been putting more importance on his wicket and that mindset has helped get the best out of his game.

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North Down captain Alistair Shields. ©CricketEurope

“It’s a bit of a different role for me,” he said.

“I’ve been used to opening the batting for the past few years and going in with a bit of a licence in the powerplay and it has come off a few times getting the odd 70 or 80 which is great, but the consistency wasn’t really there.

“With Ruhan and Aditya coming in and both keen to open the batting plus Stirlo when he’s available, it made sense for me to slide down the order and maybe play that anchor role and bat time more.

“We brought in Gavin Rogers again to act as a bit of support around the wider team and that’s one thing he has helped me with and putting more value on my wicket.

“It seems to be working well and we’ve had some good results.”

The one loss that North Down have been handed this season was against Waringstown at the same venue they’ll be playing at on Sunday.

Although not needing any more motivation to perform, Shields and his men will have revenge on their mind.

“North Down vs Waringstown is always a big game,” he added.

“I think if we are honest with ourselves we threw the game away against them a couple of weeks ago.

“It’s a cup semi-final and it’s against Waringstown so we don’t need any extra motivation, but if you did then you don’t need to look much further than the revenge of that defeat.

“We will be looking to look after Saturday first and put in a good performance at Woodvale and then look forward to Sunday.”

Family affair for Muckamore in trip to Armagh

It’ll be a family affair for Muckamore this weekend when they travel to Armagh in the Robinson Services Trophy with two sets of father and son pairings taking to the field.

Richard Keates and son Jude will be joined by Les Allen and his son Luke as the Moylena side aim to keep their unbeaten start to the league season going.

Jude has recently been named in the NCU U15 side for next week’s fixtures against Leinster and the North West while captain Sam Gordon is tipping Luke Allen to have a big say in the not too distant future.

“I don’t know if that’s happened before,” he said.

“I think it’s the first time it has happened at Muckamore on the firsts. Jude has been fantastic and was just selected for the NCU U15s.

“He is scoring runs on the 2nds. He batted on the 3rds and got 50, then moved to the 2nds and got 40 and I said we would give him a crack.

“He was unlucky on Saturday to get out to one that spat off the wicket. He’s in for another game and there’ll be big things from him in the future. Luke is going to come good in the next few games.

“You know what you get with Keatesy and Les Allen. They bring a lot of experience and it’s good to have them in the team.”

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Luke Allen. ©CricketEurope

After losing so many high-profile players over the winter months, it was an unknown how Muckamore would go with a number of young players stepping up and a new captain in Gordon, but they have exceeded all expectations by kicking off with wins over Templepatrick, Cliftonville Academy, Donacloney Mill and Ballymena.

They are one of only two teams still yet to lose in the competition alongside Cregagh and Gordon is understandably delighted with how his tenure has started.

“We got off to a flier,” he added.

“I wouldn’t say I didn’t expect it but I’m very happy with where we are from the positions we were put in and the games we have won.

“We have won some close ones and the boys have been putting in a good fight.

“There is still plenty more to come from a few boys who aren’t firing so hopefully in the near future you’ll see more names on the score sheet.

“There is still plenty more for them to give. Some of them are playing their first year in the First XI so I can’t really complain.

“It’s just about pushing on from that and hopefully this is a team that can keep pushing on together.”

Gordon’s own form has been superb with both bat and ball, scoring 155 runs across the four innings and picking up six wickets in the first two games.

“It’s good to lead from the front,” he said.

“We’ve been playing on some wickets that have been hard to bat and bowl on and that’s no disrespect to any groundsman because the weather has been brutal.

“Even for the younger lads, them looking at me batting shows them you don’t need to smash 90 off 50 balls. It’s about getting to 120 or 130 because that’s winning most games of cricket.

“I definitely think it’s (captaincy) bringing something out of me.

“I’m concentrating a bit harder and not throwing my wicket away. It’s something I probably should have thought about for a lot longer being a bit more selfish.

“I’m not worried about down the order because I know they will stick their hand up.

“You’ll see a lot more from Luke Allen very soon. He’s just off a two-game ban so hopefully with him coming back you’ll see him on the scoresheet more.”

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Sam Gordon. ©CricketEurope

Another player that is in fine form is David Steen, who has collected 10 wickets in three games, including 4-10 last time out against Ballymena.

The left-armer has used the slow wickets at the start of this season to his advantage and has played a massive role in the early success.

“He’s bowling fantastically,” added Gordon.

“Just being left-arm helps and be brings another variant to our attack. There aren’t many teams that have that.

“He’s done a lot of work over the past few years and if there is anyone who is an example that you can change it around then Steener is it.

“He’s bowling absolutely fantastically at the minute and long may it continue.

“With the slow pace that he’s bowling, you have to put all the pace on the ball yourself and it’s catches galore in the outfield with guys trying to hit Steener.

“We’ve got off to a good start in the last few games and it means he can come on and just throw the ball up.

“He’s going for low runs too and boys are really struggling to hit him.”

 

Hard work is paying off for Marc Ellison

Marc Ellison was rewarded for the work he has been putting into further adapting his Twenty20 game with a first half-century of the season against Lisburn on Saturday.

Usually a more methodical batsman that likes to take time to work his way into an innings, the change of all cricket this season to Twenty20 matches meant Ellison has needed to put more effort into making his game suit the shortest format.

The 33-year-old has been one of the most prolific batsmen in the country over the past two seasons, scoring 1087 runs in 2018 at an average of 49.41 before following it up with 882 in the last campaign.

He has scored nine half-centuries across the two years and his first of the 2020 season came with 79* at the weekend from 58 deliveries as CSNI sealed a 54-run victory.

“I’ll be the first to say I give a couple of chances and so I rode my luck, but sometimes you need that,” he said.

“It was good to get a score and some time in the middle.

“We are only playing T20 cricket so for someone like me that likes batting over long periods of time, I’m left after the innings feeling like I want so much more time in the middle!

“It was really good to get a win and we are now two from three. We’ve got some challenging games coming up, especially in this format because every opponent has a guy or two that can change the game with the bat very quickly and with the ball all it takes is two or three bad overs and the game totally changes complexion.

“We are very keen to get into Saturday and get another win on the board.”

This weekend will see CSNI travel to Middle Road to take on Carrickfergus, where they should have Stuart Thompson and Gary Wilson available after their return from international duty in England.

Despite the aforementioned reputation of working into an innings, Ellison’s statistics are still impressive in the LVS Twenty20 Cup over the past two seasons.

He scored 211 runs in five innings in 2018 at a strike-rate of 130.25 and average of 70.33, including a 46-ball 97 against Waringstown.

Those numbers were down last season with his strike-rate sitting at 99.01 and average at 25, but despite the general success since returning from New Zealand, Ellison isn’t looking to sit still and has been working on his methods.

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Marc Ellison. ©CricketEurope

“My method has needed some tweaking,” he added.

“I typically like to build into an innings and move through the gears as I go and as I find some rhythm, but the reality of T20 is that you’ve to make the most of the first six overs so being more aggressive up top is something I’ve been working on over the past month or so.

“I didn’t put my best foot forward in the Knights intra-squad games that we had over the last couple of weeks. I scored a bit slowly and found the wickets a bit tricky to get going on.

“I think it’s just a matter of a switch in mindset. I’ve been speaking to a few guys that I trust and talking about how I can put as much pressure on the bowler as possible and what my options are to do that.

“I would like to build into a season by spending a lot of time in the middle but in T20 you just don’t have that luxury.

“There are a few things I’ve been working on technically over the long off-season that we had and it’s trying to make sure that feels comfortable so I can go out and watch the ball.

“That’s the lesson for me that keeps being repeated time and time again. It’s amazing what can happen when you just clear your mind and watch the ball.”

Ellison has a new opening partner this season in Ross Adair, who signed for the Premier League side from Holywood during the winter.

Adair’s game is perfectly suited to Twenty20 cricket and he has no problem in coming out of the gates quickly and aggressively.

Having Adair there has helped take the pressure off Ellison’s shoulders with CSNI relying heavily on him in recent times to set a platform.

“He’s been a massive addition to the club,” he said.

“He’s a great bloke and adds great value with his banter and his batting and bowling has been fantastic to have around.

“As an opening batter, he takes the pressure off me to get started. Typically, it has been on me to get us off to a good start over the last few years.

“The nature of T20 is that you have to get on with it in the first six overs and he does that naturally.

“It’s just about making sure that I’m bringing that same fearless approach to my play and if it comes off, the team is going to get off to a great start like he has helped us do to date.”

Ellison will also have a role to play with the Northern Knights when they get their campaign underway later this month.

Competition for a spot at the top of the order has probably never been stronger with Ellison, Adair, Shane Getkate, James McCollum, John Matchett and Ruhan Pretorius all more than viable options in both the 20 and 50-over formats.

That healthy competition will help each player strive to be their very best and Ellison is hoping for more success this season after the Knights ended a six-year wait for silverware in 2019.

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Northern Knights. ©CricketEurope

“I’ve really missed it,” he added.

“It’s what I prepare for over the winter to have more success there. I’ve tasted some success but I would certainly like to do it more consistently.

“From a team perspective, we had some success last year and we are improving in all forms of the game. We have a really exciting squad and the difficulty is actually getting picked in it.

“We have a lot of depth and that’s great to see. Competition is great because it keeps everyone on their toes and keeps everybody searching for more, whether it be in runs and wickets or in training looking for that extra 1% to help you perform.

“It’s all positive from a Knights perspective and it’s a product of the work that Johnty (Simon Johnston) has been putting in.

“It’s well-deserved and hopefully we can pick up at least one of the trophies on offer this summer.”

This week also marked three years since Ellison has been back in Northern Ireland, meaning he is now eligible to represent Ireland at international level pending an application.

Working his way to the highest level remains a massive goal for Ellison and he knows how hard he will have to work to force his way into the side.

“The biggest thing for starters is settling on a method in T20 cricket that is successful more times than not,” he added when asked about his goals for the year.

“I think scoring hundreds in T20 cricket really makes a statement so it’s building a method that allows you to do that, regardless if that’s club cricket or Inter-Pro cricket.

“I’m trying to break the shackles a little bit and be a bit freer.

“Wanting to contribute more often than not is a big one for me so if I can win as many games as possible for the team then that’ll be one of the goals ticked.

“Just over the weekend my eligibility ticked over for Ireland because I’ve been here three years. I’ve gone through the application process with Cricket Ireland and the ICC over the last few weeks and my understanding is that application is with them now.

“It should go ahead no dramas and then it’s about making sure I’m performing on the pitch.

“I’m going to have to do something special to get into the Knights T20 side because there is so much competition for spaces.

“I think I was second top run-scorer in the 50-over Inter-Pro’s last year so it’s about making sure I’m right up there again and playing those match-winning innings.

“If I’m doing that, I’m making it tough for selectors and forcing their hand to give me an opportunity.

“I’m well out of the (Ireland) mix at the moment.

“We haven’t had any Inter-Pro’s and they’ve had their squad they’ve picked over there with Gareth Delany opening, Princer (James McCollum) as back-up and (William) Porterfield could open as well.

“I do feel I’m down the pecking order but a couple of innings can change that as I found with the series in La Manga.”

North Down and Instonians set to meet for the second time in a week

Just six days after facing off in the LVS Twenty20 Cup first round, North Down and Instonians will meet each other once again tomorrow, this time in the Robinson Services Cup.

North Down came out on the winning side at The Green last Sunday to book a semi-final trip to Waringstown on August 9.

A third-wicket partnership of 71 between Ruhan Pretorius (58*) and Peter Eakin (41) helped the home side chase down their target of 128 with an over to spare after Shane Getkate (54) had scored a first-innings half-century.

It was the perfect way for the Comber men to bounce back from a disappointing defeat to Waringstown the previous day, where they went down by six-runs despite needing 16 from as many deliveries.

Another win would leave them in a good position in the league and captain Alistair Shields doesn’t have many complaints about how his side have started the season.

“The thing that I spoke about at the start of the season was winning the key moments in games,” he said.

“The only five overs that we have switched off with bat or ball was the last five overs of our chase against Waringstown and that cost us.

“Those are the big moments that if you win those you win matches and in turn trophies. That’s the challenge that I have gave to our guys.

“I thought we had Waringstown dead and buried to be honest at 80/1. I don’t think it’s a game that we should have lost but we did so there are learnings we can take from that.

“On the whole, I think we have done well.

“Our bowlers have been excellent so far. Carl Robinson has bowled really well and our seamers have backed him up.

“We’ve played on a couple of wicket that have taken spin but we’ve adapted quickly to the conditions.

“It’s pleasing to see Ruhan in the runs on Sunday, (Aditya) Adey started really well, I’ve got a couple of forties and Pete came to the party last weekend so there isn’t a lot to complain about.”

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Ruhan Pretorius. ©CricketEurope

Adey started life with North Down well, hitting a half-century against Carrickfergus in an opening day eight-wicket victory after a move from Muckamore.

He has also played an important role with the ball, bowling nine overs across three games and Shields is pleased with how he has settled in.

“We always thought he was going to be a good addition with bat, ball and in the field,” he added.

“He’s a bit of a livewire in the field being a good athlete and has a good arm. He has bowled pretty well. We have a batch of bowlers that he compliments.

“We have strength in depth there and hopefully in the next couple of weeks we will have extra strength with Stirlo slotting in so there are places up for grabs.

“I think Adey was disappointed with the shot he played last week but he has another opportunity tomorrow. I back him to bat at the top of the order and he has delivered so far.”

Another player that has started the season strongly is leg-spinner Carl Robinson, who has returned figures of 12-2-40-4 in the opening three matches.

He has been involved in the series of Northern Knights practice games, taking 1/23 off four overs in the final match on Friday.

“I picked him as our one to watch at the start of the season,” said Shields.

“I think T20 suits him. Leg-spinners have traditionally gone pretty well in T20 competitions around the world.

“Carl has bowled really well. He has done work over the winter, making some slight changes to his action and looks to me to be bowling slightly quicker.

“He is certainly reaping the rewards at the minute so long may it continue.

“Carl is very much a confidence bowler and if it’ll be great if he can keep riding that crest of a wave. I’m delighted with how he is playing.”

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Carl Robinson bowling for North Down. ©CricketEurope

Two North Down players that haven’t actually got to make an appearance for the club this season so far are Craig Young and Paul Stirling, who both played for Ireland in the opening ODI of a three-game series against England in Southampton yesterday.

Stirling only managed two before he was caught off the bowling of David Willey but Young picked up the wickets of Jason Roy and James Vince.

With the final game being played on Tuesday, the pair could be back in time for a trip to Woodvale and that semi-final against Waringstown.

“I caught up on the highlights and they were a couple of good scalps for him,” added Shields.

“Someone like Youngy and Stirlo when he’s available will add serious quality to our team and that’s something for us to look forward to.

“The most important game is tomorrow and if we can get a win to go two from three in the league we put ourselves in a good position to welcome those guys back.

“We are looking forward to having them back and hopefully they go well in the next couple of games.”

It isn’t often that you play the same team in your very next outing and that offers some unique challenges to both sides.

Shields is looking for his men to step up and follow last weekend’s success with another at the same venue.

“We had a similar situation last year where we played Inst in the Challenge Cup and very soon after in the league,” he said.

“Dismissals may be in the back of players’ minds tomorrow with certain opposition batsmen or bowlers that went well last week or maybe some that didn’t go as well.

“It’ll be interesting to see what Inst do to change it up and what we do perhaps to change it up.

“Last week means nothing if we don’t perform tomorrow so we will be looking to follow that win up with a strong performance.”

Lisburn aiming for consistency after picking up first win of the season

Lisburn will head into a Robinson Services Cup clash against CSNI this weekend on the back of their first win of the season.

After two Cup losses to Woodvale and CIYMS, the Wallace Park side sealed a spot in the LVS Twenty20 Cup semis with a three-wicket victory over Carrickfergus last Sunday.

Giving the nature of Twenty20 cricket, Lisburn captain Adam Berry is hoping his side can get some momentum after a mixed start.

“We started the season poorly against Woodvale and we were well beaten,” he said.

“CIYMS will always be a tough test and it’s a testament to Nigel Jones and the guys there for the performances they’ve been putting in week in week out for many seasons now.

“We had a few decent individual performances last weekend but getting the win Sunday with a relatively young side was pleasing for the whole squad.

“Fingers crossed we can kick on. In T20 cricket the momentum can swing so quickly and anyone really can beat anyone on their day.

“Hopefully we can continue to put in good performances and keep improving.

“I would like to see us putting in strong performances consistently and if we do this the results will take care of themselves.”

Lisburn will welcome in Josh Manley for his club debut after a winter move from Instonians.

He joins Tom O’Connor, Luke Allison and Chris Burns, who played for the first time last Sunday since joining from Bangor, in making their maiden appearances for the club this season.

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Chris Burns batting on his Lisburn debut. ©CricketEurope

“He’s been busting to play and will add another dimension to the team,” added Berry.

“He showed his quality last season and we are all looking forward to having him in the side.”

O’Connor started by returning figures of 1-19 from his four overs against Woodvale but it looks as though his time with the club is over for this season due to work commitments.

Teenager Allison has bowled nine overs across the three games after making the step up from Section One outfit Donacloney Mill and took his first wicket in the Carrick victory.

“Both guys have settled into the squad and the club really well,” said Berry.

“Tom was one of the shining lights in week one against Woodvale however with work commitments now it’s unlikely we will see him again this season.

“Luke is still young and finding his feet but he bowled well last weekend and having the other senior seam bowlers around him will only benefit his development.”

Saturday’s Robinson Services Cup games: Carrickfergus vs CIYMS; CSNI vs Lisburn; North Down vs Instonians; Woodvale vs Waringstown.

Now fully recovered, Jacob Mulder is looking to hit top form once again

The only two remaining undefeated teams in the top-flight will go head-to-head on Sunday as CIYMS travel to Woodvale in the LVS Twenty20 Cup first round.

Waringstown, North Down and Lisburn have already progressed to the semi-finals and it’ll be the latter that awaits the winner of this weekend’s rearranged clash at Ballygomartin Road, with the original fixture postponed due to bad weather.

CIYMS have started their season with victories over CSNI and Lisburn while Woodvale have beaten Lisburn and Carrickfergus.

Jacob Mulder, who took 47 wickets last season as CI won four trophies, has started the current campaign by collecting another four in two games.

The 24-year-old is confident there is more in the tank and is hoping he can soon hit top form.

“I’ve probably bowled better before and not taken as many wickets,” he said.

“When you’re playing in a good team, it doesn’t matter when you bowl.

“We’ve batted first and had a fair bit of scoreboard pressure so bowling around the 6th over mark is a really good time to bowl.

“I feel I can bowl better and that’s encouraging if I’m taking wickets and not going for many runs so hopefully I can hit a bit of form.”

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Mulder and CIYMS with the Challenge Cup in 2019. ©CricketEurope

The new season has also came with a promotion up the batting order for Mulder, who has slotted in at three due to the absence of Mark Adair and an overseas professional.

Mulder scored 20 against CSNI before being dismissed for six against Lisburn trying to build on a platform set by Chris Dougherty and John Matchett.

“I’m probably more suited to batting in a longer format but with Mark not there and no professional either this year, Jonesy said I would have an opportunity at three,” he added.

“There are a few boys waiting at six and seven that wouldn’t mind a crack at it as well so it’s up to me to get some runs and make that spot my own until Mark or a professional comes back this year or next.

“I didn’t get much of a hit against Lisburn because Doc and Matchy were in such good form and coming out with five overs to go doesn’t do a lot for me!”

Mulder had worked his way back into Ireland’s Twenty20 squad for a tri-series against Scotland and the Netherlands in Dublin last September before he suffered a back injury.

Having not made an international appearance since March 2017, it was a bitter blow after the hard work put in to get back into a position for selection.

He spent time with the Ireland Wolves in South Africa earlier this year and the back injury is now something of the past.

“I’m really pleased all the work I did back in Perth to get my back right has worked and after putting it to the test in South Africa training every day and playing, it has pulled up perfectly,” he said.

“I haven’t even thought about it during the club season.”

Mulder would have almost certainly been included in the Ireland squad that went to the United Arab Emirates for a 2020 Twenty20 World Cup qualifying campaign at the end of last year if it wasn’t for injury.

Although it appears he has fell behind JJ Garth in the pecking order for the 50-over format, Mulder’s record speaks for itself and he will surely still be considered as the premier option in the shortest form of the game.

There will be no World Cup, which is being held in his home country of Australia, to strive towards this year due to the coronavirus pandemic but Mulder is focusing only on what’s immediately ahead of him, which is club and inter provincial cricket.

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Mulder will play an important role for the Northern Knights next month. ©CricketEurope

“It’s obviously very disappointing but speaking to people back in Perth and in cricketing circles, I’ve known for a couple of months that it probably wasn’t going to happen,” he added.

“That was the dream this year. It’s one of those years where you can’t plan too far ahead. It’s disappointing but it gives me another goal for next year.

“You can’t do much about it and hopefully over the winter there is some A tours, senior tours or I can get home to play some cricket as well.

“You can only play what’s in front of you and that’s the club T20 stuff and Knights T20’s in the next month.

“If you can do well in the cricket you play, it probably stands out even more so that’s my plan and hopefully I can do that.”

Mulder will play in the final Northern Knights practice game at Lisburn on Friday before a busy weekend that starts with a Robinson Services Cup trip to Carrickfergus.

The LVS Twenty20 Cup is one of two titles that CIYMS will be out to defend this season and Mulder says they aren’t taking Woodvale lightly ahead of Sunday’s encounter.

“We aren’t going to take them lightly,” he said.

“They have started the season really well and are two from two in the league.

“With this year being so short and T20 cricket, you can really get on a roll and they can beat anyone on their day which we have seen.

“We want to play in another All-Ireland Finals Day. We need three wins to get there and we certainly won’t be taking Woodvale lightly at their own place.”

Lee Nelson looking to gain momentum after successful weekend

Waringstown captain Lee Nelson is hoping two victories over the weekend will have set the platform for his side to go on and achieve even more success this season.

After an opening day loss to Instonians, the Villagers got up and running in the Robinson Services Cup with a six-run win over North Down on Saturday before following it up with LVS Twenty20 Cup progression against CSNI.

James Hall (48) was the main contributor as Waringstown set North Down a target of 119 and it looked like the visitors were set for victory when needing 16 from as many deliveries.

A superb 19th over from Kyle McCallan left the Comber side requiring 11 off the final over, where James Mitchell held his nerve to bowl an almost perfect set of six balls.

Despite sitting in a precarious position after an 81-run second-wicket partnership between Ruhan Pretorius and Alistair Shields, Nelson was always confident his side were well in the game.

“When you lose your first game, you’re just dying to get those first points on the board,” he said.

“It was tough because we were playing a good side in North Down but to be able to react in the way we did – I was delighted with it.

“I felt we were always in it because it was always nip and tuck with where they needed to be with D/L and that’s usually a good indicator that you’re never out of it if it’s a run here or there.

“We kept chipping away at wickets and as soon as we broke the partnership of Ruhan and Shields, we were getting a wicket every couple of overs which was keeping us in it all the time.

“In T20, the closer you bring it to the last few overs, anything can happen and we held our nerve well.

“At stages at the end of last year, we were falling short in those games. We fell short in the last ball of the first game against Instonians so showing character like that, especially someone so young like James Mitchell being able to step up and bowl the last over like that – I thought he was superb.”

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James Mitchell bowling. ©CricketEurope

Waringstown bowled 13 overs of spin on Saturday, including four from the returning Gary Kidd who missed the defeat to Instonians.

Kidd (0-18), McCallan (2-14), Nelson (1-29) and Morgan Topping (2-13) all had a big say on the eventual result.

They are accompanied by Mitchell and Phil Eaglestone, who picked up figures of 5-16 against CSNI in the Twenty20 Cup victory.

Nelson was full of praise for his spinning unit and believes 44-year-old McCallan is still the very best off-spinner in the local game.

“We missed Gaz so much against Instonians that I can’t even describe,” he added.

“We really missed his overs in the middle because he gives you the option to take the ball away from the right-handed batsmen and that’s difficult to score off, especially when you need to go at seven or eight an over.

“To have him back against North Down was a massive plus and he’s a class act.

“I don’t think anyone has taken more wickets than him in the past 10 years so you’re always going to miss him when he doesn’t play. Now he is back, it’s going to be a major boost to us.

“If you combine Kyle’s figures up since we started again (12-0-39-4), they have to be seen to be believed.

“Yes he is in his forties, but he’s probably as fit now as he has been in the past 10 years.

“He has put a lot of work in over the winter on his fitness. Especially in T20, I don’t know how many more years he could go on to play for. He’s still in my opinion the best off-spinner in the country.

“He hasn’t aged in the last six or seven years and still hits that length every time and picks up big wickets. He came on and bowled Ruhan on Saturday and that won us the game.

“It’s hard to describe how important he is.”

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Kyle McCallan. ©CricketEurope

Topping has filled the role of number three in the batting order, left by James McCollum who is on Ireland duty, and looked to be striking the ball sweetly across both matches.

Having returned from CSNI ahead of the 2020 campaign, Nelson is impressed with the level that the former Ireland U19 international is playing at.

“His ability with the bat is there for everybody to see,” he said.

“He played a cover drive on the up on Saturday that rocketed to the fence and you just think that’s serious.

“I would have liked him to go on and see the game home on Sunday.

“It’s not always easy for people to go in and score at six or seven an over, so I would like to see him now really kick on and finish games off for us when he has them won.

“That’s something he will work on but in terms of his ability and how he strikes the ball, I think everybody has been impressed.”

Nelson should have Saturday’s star Mitchell available for selection this weekend after an x-ray revealed no broken arm following a blow off the very first ball of the innings on Sunday.

The 23-year-old will play a key role as Waringstown travel to unbeaten Woodvale on Saturday and Nelson is looking his side to gain momentum heading into the rest of the season.

“The season is so short that your momentum is crucial,” he added.

“If you can get on a run here, you can find yourself in a couple of Finals Day’s, so when the season is so short the momentum is so key.

“Hopefully by getting those couple of wins we got it’ll stand us in good stead.”

Josh Manley set for Lisburn debut this weekend

Josh Manley is set to make his Lisburn debut on Saturday in their Robinson Services Cup clash with CSNI at Stormont.

After arriving from his homeland of South Africa, Manley’s period of quarantine, which he is doing at his new home in Lisburn, will be over in time for him to take to the field with his new team-mates this weekend.

The Wallace Park side started their campaign with a 19-run loss to newly-promoted Woodvale before a 75-run defeat against CIYMS, but they got redemption on Sunday as they progressed to the LVS Twenty20 Cup semi-finals with a win over Carrickfergus.

Manley joined the club from Instonians ahead of the 2020 campaign, and after it looked like he wouldn’t be making the trip to Northern Ireland at all this summer, he is excited to get going.

“I definitely thought there wasn’t going to be a season at one point so I’m chuffed to get some cricket and that it’s happening,” he said.

“I’ve got a great flat over here and got some good views. I’m quite happy but just itching to get back out on the park.”

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Manley bowling in the 2019 Challenge Cup final. ©CricketEurope

The fast bowler had the best average in the NCU last season (11.09) on his way to taking 22 wickets, but he isn’t expecting to be hitting that sort of form from game one.

“I think I’m going to be quite rusty to be honest,” he added.

“The problem with back home was that there wasn’t any facilities to train on because everything was locked down so I couldn’t even find nets or anything to train in.

“I think it will take a little while. I don’t think I’m going to be bang on from ball one but I’ll be going in with the mentality that it will be.

“We will see how it goes and I’m just looking forward to getting back playing.”

Manley has also been named in a 28-man Northern Knights training squad for the final inter-squad practice game that will take place at Wallace Park on Friday.

The first two of the series of matches were played at Shaws Bridge last week, where Ross Adair’s 89 was the highlight, while the first game in Lisburn was rained off on Monday.

Inter-Provincial cricket is set to return in August with matches in the Trophy and Cup taking place, and Manley will be expected to play a role after making his First Class debut last season against Leinster Lightning.

Manley’s long-term plan is to live in Northern Ireland permanently and believes he will be set-up here by April at the very latest after original plans were impacted by coronavirus.

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Northern Knights. ©CricketEurope

“The schedule looks really jam-packed and I’m very excited that there’ll be some Inter-Provincial stuff. I’m very keen for that side of things as well and see where that goes,” he added.

“The plan at the moment is to move here from next year. We will head back at the end of the season, which will be the end of September.

“All of the plans got readjusted due to coronavirus. The original idea was January, and it still might be then, but everything is up in the air.

“By April next year I will 100% be here, it’s just finding out when we will be here permanently.”

James Kennedy reflects on CSNI’s low-scoring thriller against Instonians

CSNI picked up their first Robinson Services Cup victory of the season with a five-run triumph over Instonians on Saturday in a game where the winning margin doesn’t begin to tell the story of the match.

Having won the toss and elected to bat on home turf, CSNI mustered just 88/8 from their 20 overs with Corin Goodall (25*) and Ross Adair (21) the only men that made it beyond 10.

In reply, Instonians fell five runs short of their target despite the best efforts of captain Andrew White (23) and Ben Rose (33), who put on a partnership of 46 for the sixth wicket.

The difficulty of batting on the Stormont deck is clear to see when looking at the strike rates, with all of the major contributors apart from Adair going at under a run per ball.

There were only 10 boundaries across the two innings as well, but CSNI captain James Kennedy was just happy to come out on the winning side.

“It was a strange game all round,” he said.

“It was certainly a bowler’s day as opposed to a batsman’s day, but any team I’ve been involved with doesn’t give up right until the end.

“I know that’s a bit of a cliché but we knew that it was going to be tough in the second innings and that we would fight for as long as we were out there and see if we could just keep chipping away at the wickets.

“Sure enough we did and we bowled well, fielded with good intensity and got over the line in what was a low-scoring thriller.

“Both sides could look at themselves and say they could have done better with the bat but we were pleased to get over the line and get off the mark.”

No team can be filled with confidence going out to defend a total of 88, but Kennedy knew the difficulties of scoring runs on the pitch and felt his side would be in it if they were able to pick up some early wickets.

Ross Adair (3-11) did just that by bowling Olly Metcalfe and Marcus Poskitt before Ben Adair (3-15) took the crucial wickets of Nikolai Smith, James Hunter and White in the middle order.

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Ross Adair scored 21 and took three wickets against Instonians on Saturday. ©CricketEurope

“I don’t think anyone ever feels confident going in to defend 88 but we knew the wicket was sticky and if we made a couple of early breakthroughs, they might show some signs of nerves,” added Kennedy.

“Our boys bowled and fielded well, so all credit to them and we are just happy to get the four points.”

Goodall walked to the crease with the score sitting at 42/5, but it was his contribution that pushed CSNI up to what proved to be a winning total.

“A few people who batted for a few overs for both teams said that it did get easier the longer you were in,” said Kennedy.

“Rad glued that together for us and got us up to what proved to be a competitive score in the end.”

CSNI followed that narrow victory up with a seven-wicket LVS Twenty20 Cup first round defeat against Waringstown on Sunday.

They were without Kennedy, Goodall and Marc Ellison for their trip to The Lawn while Gary Wilson and Stuart Thompson remain in Southampton on Ireland duty.

Phil Eaglestone’s spell of 5-16 limited CSNI to 118 all out before the Villagers chased the total down with two overs to spare, but Kennedy was happy to hand some of the younger generation, such as Harry Dyer and Mohammad Aahil, an opportunity.

“We were missing five first team regulars on Sunday, although Gary and Thommo have been away in England so haven’t been available for a few weeks,” he said.

“We made a conscious decision that we were going to give the younger lads a go.

“They mightn’t get much to do in the game but we thought it would be a good experience for some of the guys who have come up through the club’s youth programme and the experience they would have gleaned from Sunday and games last September will stand them in good stead.

“By all reports I heard they did extremely well so that’s very pleasing.”

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Stuart Thompson. ©CricketEurope

Matty Foster returned figures of 3-16 from his four overs, picking up the wickets of Adam Dennison, James Hall and former team-mate Morgan Topping.

“Matty is bowling really well,” added Kennedy.

“He’s hitting good areas and causing the batsmen problems. The big man has worked hard over the winter in Cardiff in the university set-up and seems to be getting better every year, so I’m delighted for him.”

CSNI will host Lisburn, who have lost their first two Robinson Services Cup games against Woodvale and CIYMS, on Saturday.

With the nature of Twenty20 cricket, Kennedy is expecting the season to be packed with tough games but will be looking for a better batting performance.

“It’ll be another tricky game against Lisburn,” he said.

“That’s the thing about T20 – it’s very difficult to get on a winning streak because one or two bad overs in a T20 can change the game dramatically.

“Three of the four games went down to the final over on Saturday and you could put a piece of paper between all the teams because the shortened games make for more exciting games and results.

“Hopefully we can carry that into Saturday and maybe bat a bit better to get a higher score on the board.”

George Munsey on how the opportunity to play for Carrickfergus came about

Two days before the opening game of the 2020 season, Carrickfergus announced the signing of Scotland international batsman George Munsey.

The last time Munsey was on these shores, he smashed 127* from 56 deliveries in Malahide against the Netherlands – an innings which remains as the second fastest T20I century (41 balls) while he put on the third-highest T20I partnership with Kyle Coetzer (200 runs).

With competitive cricket not yet returning in Scotland, the 27-year-old was on the search for an opportunity to get back in the middle, and that’s where Carrick came in.

“One of my coaches knows one of the guys at Carrick and they were chatting away,” he explained.

“We aren’t getting a lot of cricket in Scotland at the moment with just being a bit behind everyone else so the opportunity arose from there.

“My coach got in touch saying would I fancy a few games in Ireland and it transpired from there.”

Munsey arrived last Friday ahead of his club debut on Saturday against North Down, where he scored 10 in Carrick’s eight-wicket defeat at The Green.

With Scotland now back in training, Munsey travels across to Northern Ireland ahead of the weekend action before returning to his homeland on a Sunday.

He is set for another two matches this weekend as Carrick travel to Woodvale on Saturday before he gets his first run out at Middle Road when Lisburn visit for a LVS Twenty20 Cup first round clash the following day.

Although only having the chance to play in one game so far, Munsey is impressed by the standard and has been welcomed by his new team-mates.

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Munsey batting for Scotland. ©CricketEurope

“It was really good,” he said of his first experience of NCU cricket.

“The guys at Carrick have been awesome. It’s a lovely club and it’s great to be apart of it. I’ve certainly been made to feel welcome.

“The Irish boys are obviously away now so I get to see what club cricket is like here without them.

“The standard has certainly been impressive and so are the facilities.”

Munsey’s arrival got a lot of local cricket fans enthused to watch his exploits and they should get that opportunity this weekend with the news that supporters are allowed to be present at matches.

With all that excitement surrounding his presence in the league, does it bring any extra pressure when it comes to performing on the field?

“I think I always feel the pressure going out to bat because it only takes one ball to knock your stumps out of the ground,” he added.

“It’s another opportunity to get out, play some cricket and more importantly to have some fun at a new club.”

Munsey had helped Scotland qualify for the 2020 Twenty20 World Cup in Australia which was set to get underway in October, but due to the coronavirus pandemic the tournament has been pushed back to next year.

While a bitter blow to have to wait for such a big opportunity, Munsey is looking to stay ready for whatever happens in the rest of this unpredictable year.

“It’s obviously tough for everyone that qualified for the World Cup that it isn’t going ahead this year,” he said.

“A lot of teams were in a really good place and certainly Scotland were building along nicely.

“There are bigger things going on in the world at the moment and we just have to prepare for whatever is next.

“The calendar is still open and in the air so we are staying ready for anything.”