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

Cricket Ireland announce squads for Northern vs Southern Development Series

Cricket Ireland have announced the squads that will play in two Northern vs Southern development series Twenty20 games at Lisburn (August 13) and Malahide (August 17).

Instonians, Northern Knights and Ireland all-rounder Shane Getkate will captain both of the Northern XII sides with Ross Adair, CJ van der Walt, James Hunter, Jacob Mulder, Matthew Foster and Josh Manley also playing at Wallace Park on Thursday.

Mulder and Foster will be replaced by North Down leg-spinner Carl Robinson and Irish pace bowler David Delany for the second game at Malahide on Monday.

Waringstown all-rounder Morgan Topping also makes the squad for the second game, taking the place of former CIYMS batsman Ryan Hunter.

“The Academy & Regional Development Series that was held over the last fortnight was of great benefit to the Academy squad and a raft of Provincial players looking to impress selectors and coaches ahead of the Test Triangle Inter-Provincial Series starting on 20 August, to get 12 games in across Ireland has been really positive,” said Pete Johnston, Academy and Performance Manager for Cricket Ireland.

“The lockdown period – while restrictive – was actually a productive one for those in the Academy, and we’ve already seen the gains they have made in all aspects of their games as the vast majority of them have impressed with their performances since we have returned to play.

“The resilience and drive the guys have shown has been outstanding. I know that Graham Ford was also impressed by many of the bowlers who helped with the build up to the England games and the environment since we have been back training and playing has been excellent.

“The selectors also noted a number of other Provincial players who have also emerged from lockdown in a good place and who were performing very well throughout the series.

Ireland Wolves v Bangladesh A - T20 International

Pete Johnston. 

“The Northern XII v Southern XII fixtures will likewise provide emerging players across all our provinces with an opportunity to press their case for higher honours.

“We expect this to be a highly competitive series – and continue to provide high-level competitive action that these players would otherwise have missed out on due to the cancellation of National Academy and Youth squad tours due to COVID-19.

“The National Selectors met as a group and confirmed the squads above for these fixtures. Selection was based on the performances during the Academy/Regional Development games along with club cricket while also considering succession planning in various skill sets and roles for the future.

“A number of players also narrowly missed out on selection, due to the competitive nature of it and I would urge them to keep pushing on and causing selectors further headaches.

“We also have our eyes on a number of players who are in the process of qualifying, some who have impressed, but not all have been considered for these games due to various strategic and development reasons which have been well thought out and discussed.

“The more high-level competitive action we can provide for these guys, the better it will be for the future of Irish cricket – go back a few months and we were concerned of losing the entire season, but now we are delighted to be able to arrange these fixtures and continue the development of a group of players that will form the core of our future international squads.

“We have really enjoyed working closely with the Provincial Unions on these games and can not thank all their staff and grounds enough for their collaboration towards getting all of these games up and running.”

Northern squads

Northern XII (13 August @ Lisburn) – 2pm start
• Shane Getkate (capt)
• Ross Adair
• Ryan Hunter
• James Hunter
• Neil Rock
• CJ Van Der Walt
• Kyle Magee
• Ross Allen
• Jacob Mulder
• Mathew Foster
• Conor Olphert
• Joshua Manley

Northern XII (17 August @ Malahide) – 2pm start
• Shane Getkate (capt)
• Ross Adair
• Morgan Topping
• James Hunter
• Neil Rock
• CJ Van Der Walt
• Kyle Magee
• Ross Allen
• Carl Robinson
• David Delany
• Conor Olphert
• Joshua Manley

Southern squads

Southern XII (13 August @ Lisburn)

• Stephen Doheny (capt)
• Seamus Lynch
• Jeremy Lawlor
• Greg Ford
• Tim Tector
• Fiachra Tucker
• Rory Anders
• Mitchell Thompson
• Jamie MacNulty
• Theo Dempsey
• Ben White
• Mike Frost

Southern XII (17 August @ Malahide)

• Stephen Doheny (capt)
• Seamus Lynch
• Jeremy Lawlor
• Jack Tector
• Tim Tector
• Fiachra Tucker
• Rory Anders
• Mitchell Thompson
• Jamie MacNulty
• Theo Dempsey
• Ben White
• Mikey O’Reilly

5 thoughts from the past weekend in NCU cricket

Another weekend of NCU cricket is in the books and it was a good one with runs aplenty and the finalists for the LVS Twenty20 Cup both decided on Sunday.

From Instonians ending CIYMS’ unbeaten run to Paul Stirling’s North Down debut, we run through five thoughts from the weekend that was.

  1. Unpredictable Instonians

I asked last week who would beat CIYMS this season and it turned out we didn’t have to wait long to find out the answer as Instonians recorded a 10-run Robinson Services Cup victory against the favourites on Saturday.

Instonians have had a strange season so far, beating both Waringstown and CIYMS, two teams that have won the last five Twenty20 Cup’s between them but have also failed to chase 88 against CSNI and were bowled out for 77 by North Down.

They have a very young side and that means there are going to be inconsistent performances, but if they can put a run of results together now at the back end of the Robinson Services Cup league stage then they could be the dark horse in the play-offs.

Andrew White’s men would go in with the knowledge that they have what it takes to beat any team on their day and with the likes of Shane Getkate in their side plus a number of young stars, who knows what their potential could be.

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Instonians. ©CricketEurope

  1. Great day for NCU cricket at The Lawn

There was a bumper crowd present at The Lawn on Sunday for Waringstown’s LVS Twenty20 Cup semi-final against North Down.

Many would have been there to watch Paul Stirling’s first game for his new club and they got an early show in the blistering sunshine as he smashed 29 from 17 balls before he was caught off the bowling of James Mitchell, who was once again superb.

Stirling then took 3-7 while Ireland team-mate Craig Young rounded the game off with two wickets and Waringstown also had James McCollum back in their side after his international commitments.

Although the match wasn’t necessarily close in the end, it was great to see so many out enjoying what the local game has to offer and the presence of Stirling has certainly gave it a massive boost.

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Paul Stirling batting on debut for North Down. ©CricketEurope

  1. Runs galore at Stormont

It wasn’t a day for the bowlers at Stormont on Saturday with Carrickfergus and CSNI hitting 331 runs between them in 34 overs as the latter ran out victors by nine wickets.

Carrick opener George Munsey showed what he’s all about by smashing 80 from 42 to help set a target of 166, which Ross Adair (92 from 38) and Marc Ellison (59* from 37) almost chased on their own in the space of an hour.

In an extraordinary afternoon of batting, there were 28 fours and 20 sixes between the two sides as CSNI improved to three wins from four matches while Carrick have now lost all four of their opening league games, but they are clearly better than their record this season suggests.

Adair needed to score more runs for his club to further state his claim for a spot in the Northern Knights set-up for the Inter-Pro’s that get underway on August 20 and he emphatically did that, so it’ll be interesting to see who makes the cut for that first game against the North West Warriors at Bready.

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Ross Adair scored 92 from 38 deliveries on Saturday. ©CricketEurope

  1. Cregagh looking in prime position for Robinson Services Trophy success

Just like I questioned with CIYMS last week, there is a similar trend arising with Cregagh and who will beat them this season.

The Ducks are currently unbeaten through five matches (four wins, one void) and their bowling attack is giving teams all sorts of problems right now.

They restricted Downpatrick to 58-7 on Saturday and only one team has got over 100 against them in the league, which was Armagh with 101 all out so every side so far has seemed to struggle.

With their array of spinners and Adam Beattie, Cregagh have an ability to starve their opponents of runs before knocking them off and they are certainly favourites to be top of the league come September.

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Cregagh. ©CricketEurope

  1. North Down and CIYMS double header could be special

With North Down and CIYMS both progressing to the LVS Twenty20 Cup final, it means they will face off twice in a weekend with their league fixture on August 22 and the decider one day later at The Lawn.

It’s unclear if Stirling will be able to play in the final with Northants commitments in the Twenty20 Blast in England but if he can and both teams are at full strength, it could be a very special occasion.

You could have both of Ireland’s white-ball opening bowlers in Craig Young and Mark Adair present plus a number of other Irish internationals such as James Cameron-Dow and Jacob Mulder.

Add in a potential future international in Ruhan Pretorius, the consistency and brilliance of Chris Dougherty, the red-hot form of Alistair Shields, last year’s Premier League Bowler of the Year Peter Eakin, CI captain Nigel Jones who always seems to turn up in big games and much more, we could be in for an incredible couple of days.

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CIYMS are reigning LVS T20 champions. ©CricketEurope

Robinson Services and D&P Cricket Player of the Week – Ross Adair

Ross Adair has been named Robinson Services and D&P Cricket Player of the Week after scoring 92 from 38 deliveries in CSNI’s nine-wicket Robinson Services Cup victory over Carrickfergus on Saturday.

Set a target of 166 in 20 overs after Carrick opener George Munsey struck 80 from 42 balls (five fours, seven sixes), the CSNI opening duo of Adair and Marc Ellison (59* – 38 balls; nine fours, two sixes) put on 156 for the first wicket in 12.1 overs.

Adair’s blistering 54-minute stay at the crease contained six fours and eight sixes as he helped his side pick up a third league win from four games by scoring at a strike-rate of 242.1.

It continues a fine start to the 2020 season for Adair who scored 89 and 40* in Northern Knights practice games while he has also picked up six Robinson Services Cup wickets.

For his performance on Saturday, Adair receives a £50 voucher to spend on equipment at D&P Cricket.

Honourable mentions

  • As mentioned above, last week’s winner Marc Ellison scored 59* in the same game.
  • James Hall scored 49 for Waringstown as they recorded a 53-run win over Lisburn on Saturday.
  • Armagh opening bowler Ben Mackey took a hat-trick in their win on The Mall against Muckamore, leaving the opposition 13-4 before the home side recorded a seven-wicket victory.
  • Ross Bryans scored 50 for Templepatrick as they picked up their first win of the season against Ballymena.

Previous winners

Week One – Sam Gordon (58 and 3-7)

Week Two – Chris Dougherty (80*)

Week Three – Marc Ellison (79*)

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.”

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.”

8 thoughts from the past weekend in NCU cricket

CIYMS were the big winners of the weekend as they maintained their unbeaten start to the season by picking up victories over Carrickfergus and Woodvale.

There were also Robinson Services Cup wins for CSNI, Waringstown and North Down as the 2020 campaign reached the third weekend since its restart.

On what will be a weekly post on the website (although the number of points could vary), I’m going to run through a list of thoughts that came to mind from last weekend’s action.

1. Who beats CIYMS in these conditions? – I got to watch CIYMS for the first time this season on Sunday in their LVS Twenty20 Cup victory over Woodvale and originally I had thought the home side had done well to limit them to 122, but it actually turned out that total was a great score on the wicket.

With the bad weather in July, getting wickets ready has likely been a disaster for groundsmen all around the country with the midweek rain really disrupting plans and limiting preparation time, and that has been shown by the relatively low team totals in the first few weeks.

CI captain Nigel Jones has a range of spinners at his disposal in James Cameron-Dow, Jacob Mulder, Ted Britton, John Matchett and Karthik Rajavelu while he himself can take pace off the ball, so the fact the wickets are hard to bat on feeds even more into their hands with the bowling attack they possess.

Their tactic seems to be bat first, set a big total and then just totally suffocate the opposition. Waringstown are perhaps the only team that have a similar set-up in terms of so many quality spinners, but right now it’s hard to see where CI’s first loss comes from (I’ve undoubtedly cursed them now).

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CIYMS captain Nigel Jones has plenty of options. ©CricketEurope

2. This could be James Mitchell’s year I was extremely impressed with the way that James Mitchell closed out Waringstown’s league victory over North Down and he was in the wickets on Saturday, picking up figures of 4-15.

He blasted through Woodvale’s top order and dismissed quality batsmen like Wayne Horwood and Stephen Bunting, leaving the Ballygomartin Road side struggling at 19/4 and they were never able to fully recover.

This could be a massive year for Mitchell and he is certainly one to watch if he can carry this form into the rest of the season.

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James Mitchell bowling. ©CricketEurope

3. Marc Ellison joins the party – It had been a quiet enough start to the season for Marc Ellison but you can’t keep a good player down for long and he proved that by scoring 79* against Lisburn on Saturday.

The 33-year-old has been one of the most consistent players in the league since returning to the NCU from New Zealand and Saturday could be the platform he needed to really kick on and start a string of performances which sees him sit towards the top of the run charts once again.

Ellison is so important to CSNI and is the one that will have to lead even more this year with no overseas professional, but there is no doubt he is capable of stepping up to that task.

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Marc Ellison. ©CricketEurope

4. Does Ross Adair get picked for the Knights? – That brings us on to Ellison’s new opening partner at CSNI, Ross Adair.

He is the player that will have gave Northern Knights head coach Simon Johnston most to think about after the three practice games that were played over the past couple of weeks at Shaws Bridge and Wallace Park, where he scored 89 and 40* before the rain arrived.

Competition for a spot in the top order has perhaps never been more fierce, with Shane Getkate, Paul Stirling (if available), Ellison, James McCollum, John Matchett and now Adair all more than capable of filling the roles.

Adair will need to score more runs for CSNI in the next few weeks to make his case for selection even stronger, but I would not be at all surprised to see his name on the team sheet alongside his brother Mark when the Knights kick off their campaign against the North West Warriors on August 20.

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Ross Adair. ©CricketEurope

5. Woodvale look up to the task – Usually when a team comes up from Section One they tend to struggle and fight towards the bottom of the table just because the league is so strong, but Woodvale have looked good.

They have a nice mix of youth and experience in their side with Wayne Horwood, Stephen Bunting, Paul Robinson, Timmy Browne and captain Jamie Gibson helping to guide younger players like Harry Warke and Jack Burton.

The Ballygomartin Road side recruited well and yes they may have a luxury that no other promoted team has had with there being no relegation, but they still look like they are capable of taking a few big scalps.

Waringstown and CIYMS both easily beat them at the weekend, but they have been the two best club sides in Ireland over the past few years so there’s no shame in that. It’ll be interesting to see how they progress in the coming weeks and if they can build on two victories.

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Stephen Bunting batting for Woodvale. ©CricketEurope

6. Top four already taking shape – We are only three Robinson Services Cup matches into the season and already it feels as though the top four is well on the way to sorting itself out.

I don’t see a scenario where any of CIYMS, North Down or Waringstown miss out on the play-offs so then it comes down to who can seal fourth spot.

CSNI are in the driving seat for that having picked up two victories, including one over Instonians who will be looking to challenge as well.

Woodvale are the dark horse if they can find a couple of results while it looks like Carrickfergus and Lisburn would need something very special to make it.

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CSNI captain James Kennedy scored 40 on Saturday. ©CricketEurope

7. Is there a better Section One batsman than Aaron Johnston? – I don’t get to watch a lot of Section One cricket with the fact that Premier League action has to take priority and therefore most of my time, but I watched Cregagh captain Aaron Johnston bat twice this weekend against Armagh and there can’t be many better than him.

He previously spent time with CIYMS which shows he has the talent and that he’s highly-rated, and you can see why he is with the way he times the ball and the control he seems to have when at the crease .

Armagh have one of the better ones in their ranks in Jamie Rogers, while Ryan Smyth, Ross Bailey and Sam Gordon would be among the names up there as well.

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Cregagh captain Aaron Johnston (front, middle). ©CricketEurope

8. What a player Chris Dougherty is – Dougherty scored the most runs of any non-overseas professional last season and his purple patch of form has continued into this campaign.

He scored a vital 54* against Woodvale on Sunday – his second half-century in three games – and the role he plays at the top of CI’s order is phenomenal.

Dougherty and John Matchett have a superb opening partnership and they almost always get their side off to a good start which then gives the middle order a platform to attack in the back end of the innings.

He has the ability to bat through an innings or up the run-rate when needed. A truly special player in this league.

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Chris Dougherty. ©CricketEurope