Obus Pienaar reflects on 2019 season with CIYMS

South African overseas professional Obus Pienaar had quite the first season back in the Northern Cricket Union, helping CIYMS win a club-record four trophies.

Pienaar, who had previously spent two seasons in Northern Ireland with Waringstown and also enjoyed time in Leinster with Clontarf, won’t return in 2020 after it was announced he will be joining Lancashire League outfit Lowerhouse.

The 29-year-old helped the Belmont side to defend their Robinson Services Premier League crown while also adding the Gallagher Challenge Cup, Lagan Valley Steels Twenty20 Cup and a first ever All-Ireland T20 title to the club’s ever-growing trophy cabinet.

Looking at the statistics, Pienaar scored 749 runs in all competitions at an average of 53.50 and also collected 28 wickets with best figures of 6-29 against Muckamore in July.

“I really enjoyed my season at CIYMS,” he said.

“I enjoy the people in Northern Ireland and it was good to catch up with some old friends.

“It was obviously a very successful season for us and I don’t think they should take it for granted, because no matter how talented the team is, it’s always hard to be consistent and be up for the game every weekend even when you sometimes play three games in a weekend!”

If you take batting averages from just the Premier League and Challenge Cup, no one averaged more than Pienaar (66.12) from his 13 innings in which he scored 529 runs.

He was well-known for his scoring power after smashing a record 244 against CIYMS back in 2011 for Waringstown in a season where he averaged 100 and followed it up with another 800 runs in 2013 at The Lawn.

This season ranks just behind those two in terms of runs, but such was the form of John Matchett and Chris Dougherty at the top of the order, there wasn’t much left to do for Pienaar when he came to the crease on many occasions.

“I’m happy with my performance,” he added.

“I obviously would have liked to have done a bit better in some games, but that’s how cricket goes.

“Most of the games I wasn’t really needed as the top three did the job.”

Many believe that the standard of cricket in the top-flight is better now than it has ever been with the star-studded line-up’s some clubs have put together, but how does 2019 compare to six years ago?

“I think the standard has definitely got better since my last stint,” said Pienaar.

CIYMS will have started their hunt for a new overseas professional as they look to be as dominant again next season and go in search of a maiden Irish Senior Cup title.

Five talking points from Ireland’s defeat to Netherlands

Ireland were beaten in the final over by Netherlands in Dublin on Wednesday as half-centuries from Max O’Dowd (68) and Ben Cooper (91*) helped the Dutch secure a six-wicket victory.

Batting first, Ireland posted 181/7 from 20 overs with Harry Tector (60) scoring his first senior international half-century in just his second match.

Andy Balbirnie (45) was again among the runs and when Mark Adair bowled Tobias Visee with the very first ball of Netherlands’ innings, Ireland were off to the perfect start.

After a partnership worth 144 between O’Dowd and Cooper, Netherlands were cruising but George Dockrell (3-17) did his best to wrestle the momentum back for Ireland.

The superb Cooper and Scott Edwards (13*) got the visitors over the line with five balls to spare and means all three teams now have one victory apiece heading into the final two fixtures.

Here are five talking points following Ireland’s defeat.

1: Harry Tector is an absolute natural

19-year-old Tector has started his international career in superb fashion and has looked so comfortable at the crease in both innings that he has played so far.

Although he only registered 21 against Scotland on Tuesday, the confidence he showed was a massive positive for Ireland and that was only further illustrated on Wednesday as he went to a half-century from 36 deliveries.

Tector (60) has the modern-day ability to play every shot in the book all over the ground and didn’t give the Netherlands bowlers any real chance to settle.

Bigger tests and more pressurising situations await, but the signs are so positive for Tector who is a future captain in waiting.

 

2: Innings of two halves for Dutch bowlers

The Dutch bowlers were so poor at the start of Ireland’s innings and really struggled to bowl to their field or implement any real plans in the powerplay with the exception of Brandon Glover (2-19).

Twenty20 cricket is a batsman’s game and bowling with the fielding restrictions and against batsmen that can play shots all over the ground is generally a thankless task, but you have to help yourself and the Dutch strayed short or leg-side too often.

Ireland scored 62-2 from their opening six overs and got off to a flying start for the second time in as many days, but credit must go to the Netherlands for the way they came back in the last eight or nine overs.

While Ireland looked set to reach 200 before their momentum died, they were able to pull the score back and showed improvements from their opening clash with Scotland.

3: Beneficial series for Ireland

Although it’s always nice to win matches, that was never going to be the most important thing during this Tri-Series and Gary Wilson will have learnt a lot about the squad over the past few days in two competitive matches.

About 10 or 11 of the touring party to the UAE will already have been known before any of this action in Dublin but there are still many positives to take from it.

We now know Harry Tector is going to be able to step up to the international level with no issues at all and that Gareth Delany is going to have a big impact after getting even more experience with the ball during these matches alongside some big hitting.

David Delany made his debut on Tuesday and only went for 24 runs from his four overs, so should be a big weapon in the Middle East.

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Gareth Delany Credit: CricketEurope

4: Welcome headache for Ireland’s selectors

There are so many pace options currently for Ireland to pick from and it’s going to be interesting to see what formula they go for at the qualifiers.

Mark Adair will certainly take the new ball while Boyd Rankin and Shane Getkate will surely be on the plane to the UAE, but there are so many other options available too that it’s going to be a tough call for Andrew White and his fellow selectors.

David Delany has shown some good signs as mentioned before, Craig Young provides some further extra pace, Stuart Thompson has opened the bowling in this series and provides some needed control usually while the likes of Josh Little and Barry McCarthy are waiting in the wings after being left out.

It is a welcome but tough decision due to the amount of options Ireland have at their disposal and is yet to be seen if there will be much difference from the personnel selected for the current set of matches in Dublin.

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Mark Adair is a certainty to be selected for the World Twenty20 qualifiers. ©CricketEurope

5: Play as close to the starting team as possible

Ireland have tried different combinations during the opening two matches but they should pick an XI that will be as close to the team that will take on Hong Kong on October 18 when they face Scotland on Friday.

I know that conditions are drastically different but it would be beneficial to have those 11 players getting more competitive cricket under their belt heading into a big competition and get the bowlers into rhythm.

Much of the squad picks itself with Paul Stirling, Kevin O’Brien and Andy Balbirnie settled as the top three ahead of the competition but it would be good to get those players below them used to the roles they will be performing.

This group of players are extremely exciting and it will be interesting to see if they can translate the potential into performance.

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Could Paul Stirling return to Ireland’s squad on Friday? ©CricketEurope

Five talking points from Ireland vs. Scotland

Blistering half-centuries from Gareth Delany and Andy Balbirnie helped Ireland to a superb four-wicket victory over Scotland in Dublin on Tuesday.

After Scotland, who scored 252/3 against the Netherlands on Monday, won the toss and set Ireland a target of 194 to win in 20 overs, Delany got Ireland off to a flying start by scoring 52 from 28 deliveries.

Playing in just his third international match, Delany opened in the absence of Paul Stirling and put on 57 for the first wicket in just 4.1 overs with Kevin O’Brien (17).

Balbirnie (64 from 32) was dismissed by Richie Berrington with another 28 runs needed to complete an impressive run chase, and it was left to debutant Harry Tector (21) and captain Gary Wilson (13) to finish the game off.

Here are five talking points following the action.

1. Is Boyd Rankin still Ireland’s main man?

At 35, former Warwickshire seamer Boyd Rankin still seems to be Ireland’s most effective pace bowler in white ball cricket and picked up figures of 3/29 from his four overs at Malahide.

Rankin has been able to focus on T20 since the start of August with a spell in England with Derbyshire, and although that didn’t go to plan in terms of wickets, it seems he has rhythm in this form and that was on full display against Scotland.

While the majority of bowlers went the distance (with the exception of Gareth Delany), Rankin kept his economy down to 7.25 and bowled more dot balls (nine) than any of his colleagues.

With the likes of Mark Adair and David Delany coming through the ranks now, Rankin remains the go-to man with his control and is able to make things happen, dismissing both Kyle Coetzer and Ollie Hairs before they could do more damage.

as Ireland take on the Netherlands on the third day of the Oman Quadrangular Series.

Boyd Rankin ©CricketEurope

2. Gareth Delany has a big role to play over the next couple of months

With Jacob Mulder set to miss next month’s World Twenty20 qualifying campaign in the UAE, Gareth Delany is Ireland’s only real leg-spin option now and has a big role to play as the men in green look to book their place in Australia next year.

The 22-year-old was superb against Scotland, collecting his first two international wickets and with spinner-friendly conditions in the Middle East, he is set to have an even bigger impact during the qualifiers.

It’s very promising for Irish fans that Delany stepped up to the challenge against a superb Scottish batting line-up that will undoubtedly light up the main World Cup competition after they surely qualify in November.

The Leinster Lightning all-rounder also provides power-hitting, be that in the opening role (52 off 28) he performed so well in on Tuesday or coming in down the order with a few overs to go.

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Gareth Delany ©CricketEurope

3. Cobwebs blown out for Ireland 

Ireland were sloppy in the field at points on Tuesday and bowled too many extras (eight wides) in their 20 overs, but hopefully they are now back in gear and will show improvements on Wednesday against the Netherlands.

They have been playing a series of Inter-Squad matches between a squad of 25 at YMCA Cricket Club but that is a very comfortable environment and obviously isn’t anywhere near replicating the pace of an international match.

With the second T20 Festival in Bready abandoned without a ball being bowled in August, a lot of the squad are short on competitive 20-over matches in the past couple of months and this will have got them back into the swing of things.

Graham Ford’s men will need to show some improvements on the bowling side of things on Wednesday as they continue to build up to the most important stage of the year.

4. Euro T20 Slam shambles cost some players more than money

While the Euro T20 Slam was a brilliant opportunity for our local players to earn good money while getting the experience of competing alongside proven international performers, it cost some something bigger – opportunity.

Looking at the players that were set to play in a T20 franchise competition that was scheduled for three countries over three weekends before it was farcically cancelled two weeks before it was due to start, the likes of Greg Thompson and Josh Little have been excluded from a 15-man squad for this tri-series.

The Euro T20 Slam would have offered both (and the others included) a big chance to state their case for a spot at the World Twenty20 qualifiers, so the shambles that ensued has cost many players an opportunity to prove themselves.

Thompson’s dropping is a very surprising one considering he scored 32 in his last innings against Zimbabwe, registered 757 runs for Waringstown at a strike-rate of 122.35 and it wasn’t too long ago he showed his limited-over prowess for the Northern Knights.

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Thompson batting against Zimbabwe ©CricketEurope

5. Ireland’s batting line-up so powerful and exciting 

While the fielding and bowling was below-par at times, the batting was absolutely superb and the current line-up is dynamic.

Kevin O’Brien and Paul Stirling will be the opening partnership going into the qualifiers, but Gareth Delany showed he is more than capable of stepping up to the top of the order if needed.

Andy Balbirnie is the perfect man to come in at three with his ability to stabilise an innings if an early wicket falls but is also able to continue scoring at a rapid rate if set a platform like he was on Tuesday.

With the likes of Lorcan Tucker, Shane Getkate and Mark Adair to follow, the Irish selectors will be delighted at their options and the ease in which they chased down a big total.

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Andy Balbirnie has been in great form for Ireland ©CricketEurope

JM Sport 2019 End of Season Awards

The 2019 season is drawing to a close and it has been four months of exciting,
dramatic action in the Northern Cricket Union.

CIYMS picked up four trophies, Muckamore were ultimately relegated from the Robinson Services Premier League and Woodvale secured promotion to the top-flight for the 2020 season.

It is that time of year again where we hand out the JM Sport End of Season
Awards in a range of categories. Let’s begin.

NCU Player of the Year

Winner – James Cameron-Dow

Honourable mentions: Jacob Mulder, Chris Dougherty

This was maybe the toughest category to decide out of all that you will see in this
article due to how well CIYMS played this season and how many contributed to
their success.

Cameron-Dow, just like Mulder, picked up 47 wickets throughout the season in
all competitions while Dougherty scored a wonderful 916 runs while playing a
part in 43 dismissals behind the stumps.

With overseas professionals excluded from this (their own category coming up), I opted for Cameron-Dow who picked up his wickets at an average of 14.32 in 29 matches with a strike-rate of 22.

His economy was also 3.91 and he rated just slightly better than his spin twin
Mulder in those categories, but there was barely anything in it which is further
illustrated by the fact his best figures were 4-10 and Mulder’s were 4-11.

Cameron-Dow also chipped in with some important runs down the order – none
more so than in CIYMS’ first league meeting with North Down that had a big say on the title even if it didn’t feel like it at the time.

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Cameron-Dow helped CIYMS to four trophies in 2019

 

Innings of the Year

Winner – Greg Thompson (153 vs CSNI, 12 May)

Honourable mentions: Andre Malan (145* vs North Down), Jacques Snyman
(190* vs Instonians)

I can only judge this on the innings that I witnessed personally throughout the
season and because I wasn’t present at Middle Road when Snyman blasted190*
against Instonians, I can’t go with that although I’m sure it was brilliant.

At Stormont in early-May, three of the seven highest run scores throughout the
whole season were complied with Greg Thompson (153) and James McCollum (140) scoring centuries in the first innings before Andre Malan (136) notched up his own in a 50-run defeat.

Thompson was fresh off hitting 149* the previous day at The Lawn against
Instonians and was in superb form, hitting 153 from 118 balls with 16 fours and six maximums.

I tweeted very early on that Thompson was going to go big on that sunny Sunday
because of how good he looked from ball one and that proved to be the case as
Waringstown motored to 347-7 despite being 25-3.

Thompson has had an impressive season so far, hitting 757 runs at an average of
47.31 with Waringstown scheduled to face North Down on Saturday.

Bowling performance of the Year

Winner – Josh Manley’s first spell against CIYMS – Challenge Cup final

Manley had a wonderful debut season in the NCU and his run in the Gallagher Challenge Cup was something special.

After dismissing four of Waringstown’s top five in the quarter-final to knock the
reigning champions out of the competition, he fired in the final to dismiss CI’s top three and leave the favourites reeling at 12-3.

It took some special batting from Jason van der Merwe and Obus Pienaar to get
them out of it before Mark Adair took over late on, but that opening spell from
Manley was incredible.

In the end, he picked up figures of 4-42 from 9.2 overs which doesn’t tell the
whole story and he is set to have a big impact in the coming years with the
Northern Knights and potentially Ireland.

Overseas professional of the Year

Winner – Andre Malan

Honourable mentions: Jacques Snyman, Ruhan Pretorius

Copy + paste from the 2018 season.

Malan was brilliant last season but somehow found a way to be even more
impressive in 2019, hitting a league-high 1,238 runs at an astonishing average of
65.16 with six fifties and five centuries in 23 innings. Truly insane.

If that wasn’t enough, he would also take 41 wickets for CSNI with a strike-rate
of 23.02 before jetting back to South Africa where he is set for another busy
period.

He has been the best player in the NCU for the past two seasons and I’m sure he
will have no shortage of offers to come back in 2020.

Snyman smashed 1,085 runs in his first season for Carrickfergus and also took 24
wickets while Pretorius averaged over 50 for the fourth consecutive season and
made his mark on the Inter-Provincial game with the Northern Knights.

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Andre Malan batting in the Premier League against North Down

Captain of the Year

Winner – Nigel Jones

Honourable mentions: Alistair Shields, Adam Berry

I feel like this is a straightforward answer considering how the season unfolded
with Jones leading CIYMS to four trophies.

He has the best squad of players at his disposal but he is the one that holds
everything together at Belmont and it is clear to see he has created a real team
culture there and they’d been building up to a season like this.

Jones has also tried to give youth a chance when possible with the likes of Zach Solomon and Carson McCullough playing on a regular basis and when it comes
time for him to leave the club, they are going to have an almost impossible job
replacing him which pretty much sums his impact up.

Alistair Shields turned North Down from a sixth-placed side into title contenders
in the space of a season and he will be looking to add one or two more to his
squad for 2020 as they look to take that next step.

I know Lisburn lost their last eight in a row, but staying in the Premier League
after being promoted isn’t an easy task in this day and age, so Berry deserves
credit for that and Lisburn’s early season form.

Breakthrough player

Winner – John Matchett

Honourable mentions: Ollie Metcalfe

Matchett has been opening the batting for CIYMS for a few years now but this felt like the season where he really broke through and showed what he is all about.

Over the past month he has shown incredible form to end up with 838 runs at the top of the order at an average of 34.

He played a massive part in winning the All-Ireland Twenty20 Cup, sharing two
century stands in a day with Chris Dougherty and was named man of the match in the final for his half-century.

Matchett will be on the verge of Northern Knights selection if he can carry this
sort of momentum into 2020 and seems to be the future of CIYMS.

Ollie Metcalfe is the best teenage batsman in the union and has scored 543 runs so far with his highlight being an Irish Senior Cup century against Cork County.

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Matchett being awarded Man of the Match in the All-Ireland T20 final

Unsung hero

Winner: Ryan Hunter

A new category for this season and it is awarded to someone that had a big say in
even bigger matches but perhaps was overshadowed by the performances of
those above him.

Hunter didn’t have as many opportunities this season for CIYMS but always stood up when his side needed him in the games that mattered.

Just this past weekend, he scored 30* of CI’s 113 to set a reasonable total against
North Down in a game that all but secured the league crown and was there at the end against Instonians in the deciding match as they reached 192 for a tie.

Hunter also scored 39 in the Gallagher Challenge Cup final in a 110-run sixth
wicket stand with Mark Adair .

Best signing of 2019

Winner – CJ van der Walt

Honourable mentions: Josh Manley, Murray Commins

Van der Walt kicked his 2019 season off by picking up a five-wicket haul for
Carrickfergus in the opening Premier League game and didn’t really look back
from there.

Batting in the middle order, van der Walt scored 653 runs at an average of
almost 40 as Carrick reached their first ever Irish Senior Cup quarter-final and
rounded the league campaign off by winning six in a row.

He also took 30 wickets to cap off what is the ultimate all-round season and with
the likes of Snyman, Jamie Holmes and van der Walt, Carrick have a team going
forward that should be capable of winning trophies.

They have all the potential and have added firepower, so a couple more additions during the winter could see them take that next step.

Umpire of the Year

Winner – Alan Neill

Honourable mention: Michael Foster

When deciding this category I looked to who officiated the biggest matches, and
Neill was in the middle for both the Irish Senior Cup final and Gallagher
Challenge Cup final alongside Phil Thompson.

It has been a big season for umpires with four of them (Neill included) receiving
contracts from Cricket Ireland and the standard is seemingly increasing and
participation also healthy enough in the NCU.

Foster stood in his first Irish Senior Cup final alongside Neill at Milverton this
season between Pembroke and Waringstown which is a fantastic achievement.

It is a great advert for our officials that two of them were doing the biggest club
game of the season while another, Jareth McCready, was on third umpire duties.

Women’s Player of the Year

Winner – Alison Cowan

Honourable mentions: Abbi Leckey, Amy Caulfield, Suzi Morrison-Keates

The women’s game has continued to improve year upon year and the Challenge Cup final at Stormont between CSNI and Muckamore was a great, exciting spectacle that went down to the final ball.

Captain Abbi Leckey held her nerve in the final over as CSNI secured their first
cup title after falling at the final hurdle against Lurgan last season while also
picking up the Premier League crown.

Cowan has been the star of CSNI’s team throughout the season, finishing not out
in five of the six league matches that they played, scoring three half-centuries in
that span.

She also scored another half-century in the Challenge Cup against Waringstown
while registering 42 in a semi-final success against Lurgan in what was a special year for CSNI’s women’s side.

Coach of the Year

Winner – Simon Johnston

When you talk to any player that has spent any amount of time in the company of Johnston, they are so enthusiastic about his love for the game and how brilliant he is as a coach.

The Knights haven’t had the luck with injuries or the squad to truly compete on
all fronts before this year, but everything seemed to click in the Twenty20 side of things and they also showed a lot of promise in the 50-over competition, beating Leinster in Dublin.

A true reflection on a coach is how the players improve in their company and it is no coincidence that Mark Adair, Shane Getkate and James McCollum are now
established Ireland stars while Jacob Mulder, James Cameron-Dow, Greg
Thompson, Harry Tector and David Delany have all been involved/are set to be involved.

Johnston has a very exciting squad at his disposal now and it’s going to be interesting going forward to see how they perform.

(Fun fact: Johnty was once my coach at NCU Under-15 level and dropped me at the
final stage before the Inter-Pro’s. I’m not bitter. I promise. I’m fine!)

Section One Player of the Year

Winner – Stephen Bunting

Honourable mentions: Wayne Horwood

Woodvale were by far and away the best side in Section One this season and
were able to take that leap from contenders to champions.

Without having access to any statistics for the S1 campaign and having watched
limited action in the competition, I am relying a lot on scorecards and statistics
for this selection.

I played in two games for my home club Armagh this season against Holywood,
where David Kennedy took 8-29 in the first innings before Ross Adair smashed
70* from what felt like 30 balls, and a comfortable win against Ballymena.

Bunting features on almost every scorecard in some fashion, be that with bat or ball, with a couple of six wicket hauls scattered in there while Horwood played a great role at the top of the order setting a platform for the Ballygomartin Road men.

It is a big jump to the Premier League but they’ve two proven performers already
in their side and will need to recruit smartly.

One thing I would change for 2020?

Answer: White ball Premier League

Not really an award as such but it was included on Twitter so thought this was as good a place to answer it as any.

I am a big advocate for a 10-team Premier League but I don’t know if I want it put in place for the 2020 season because the team coming second in Section One didn’t know they were playing for that and mightn’t be ready, but if they are happy to be promoted then I’m all for it.

If we have 10 teams who all play each other once and then the league is split into two groups of five, I believe it would produce more competitive cricket with the last four games of the season being played between teams of the similar standard and could also help the need to spend big money knowing those teams who are looking to survive will be playing against each other in the remaining weeks.

One thing that I would really love to see tested is a white-ball, coloured kit
Premier League.

I don’t know if it’s just me, but turning up to watch a white-ball game is more exciting and it feels conducive to better games, more runs and a better spectacle.

The best times of the season are always big cup games (which are all white ball)
and I would be interested to see if that would translate into the league.

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Could CIYMS be defending their title in a white ball league come 2020?

The Johnny Mo Show – Episode Four

Like McCollum in episode three, James Cameron-Dow made his Ireland debut over the winter against Afghanistan, playing in the ODI series before being named in the Test XI.

On The Johnny Mo Show, Cameron-Dow talks about growing up in South Africa, playing for the likes of North Down, CIYMS and the Knights and also his international experience.

The Johnny Mo Show – Episode Three

Ireland international James McCollum joined me to play some FIFA 19 in episode two while discussing his Irish debut a few months prior including a Test match against Afghanistan.

At the time of recording, he was looking forward to the possibility of playing at Lords against England – a game in which Ireland created some history by bowling their hosts out for 85 before lunch on the first day.

McCollum has been one of the most impressive young stars in the country for the past few years and we spoke about his journey to where he is now, playing for the Northern Knights, Waringstown and more.

The Johnny Mo Show – Episode One

Here is episode one of The Johnny Mo Show, recorded back in March with CSNI and Northern Knights batsman Marc Ellison.

Ellison is an opening batsman for both teams and was captain of New Zealand’s Under-19 side at the 2006 World Cup, skippering the likes of modern greats Martin Guptill and Tim Southee.

The 32-year-old went on to make his First Class debut for the Knights in 2018 and in this interview he talks about all the experiences mentioned above, his journey to this point and looking ahead to the future.

Zimbabwe international and former Lisburn player Craig Ervine hoping for another season in the NCU at some point

Having played in 15 Tests, 80 One Day Internationals and 16 Twenty20’s for Zimbabwe, Craig Ervine goes down as one of the most high profile players to have competed in the NCU in recent times.

The 33-year-old played for Lisburn in 2009 before returning for substantial parts of the 2013 and 2014 seasons, and was also part of the Northern Knights.

Ervine topped the NCU run-chart in his last full season in Northern Ireland, hitting 863 runs at an average of 61.64 in 16 innings, including 200* against Donemana.

He is still an important part of the Zimbabwe national side, and has registered two Test centuries (vs New Zealand and Sri Lanka).

Here, he speaks about his time with Lisburn, his international career and about the desire to potentially return one day to the NCU.

Thinking back to your move to Lisburn, how did it all come about and were you excited about the opportunity?

From what I remember my younger brother had played before me and I only heard good things about the place so I was very excited for the opportunity.

How does the standard of cricket in the NCU rank compared to other domestic/local cricket you’ve played in?

The standard is good. It’s a little difficult to compare to other domestic cricket I’ve played because the conditions over there are very different to anywhere else and that’s the challenging side of it.

The standard can only get better with the attitude and passion the guys I played with put into the game.

Did you enjoy your time with Lisburn? What were your highlights?

I definitely enjoyed my time there and one day I’ll hopefully have another season there. It’s always a pleasure visiting when I’m in the UK for a trip. Playing golf up at Lough Erne with good friends was definitely a highlight.

2) I’d say the game down at Donemana on that postage stamp was a cracking days cricket, and although we lost after I scored a double century, it was great to be apart of such a unique game of cricket.

3) End of season fines is always an enjoyable sight and all the humour that goes with it. All in all it was a great experience to play cricket in Ireland both club & domestic.

Do you keep up to date with what is going on here? Are you happy to see they’ve been promoted back to the Premier League once again?

Yes I speak to the Simpson’s quite often and I was fortunate to have a few come over to my wedding in early-May which was special.

I’m very chuffed to see them back in the Premier League. It can be tough to stay up if you haven’t got the development coming through.

What are you up to now in cricket?

I’m still playing for Zimbabwe and we have two tough tours coming up in South Africa & Bangladesh so preparations are in full flow at the moment. I’m looking forward to the tour to Ireland next June if all goes to plan.

UP CLOSE WITH…Ryan Haire

Since 2006, Ryan Haire is one of only three men to surpass the 7000 run mark in NCU cricket, racking up 8061 at an average of 40.10.

Haire was part of the North Down side that dominated the local cricket scene in the early-2000’s for a decade.

He also played in two One Day Internationals for Ireland, hitting a half-century against Scotland in 2008.

Here, he reveals the best player he has played with and against, favourite match and more.

First cricket memory?

Going to summer camp led by the late Raman Lamba around 1987/88 at The Green, putting his gloves on and never going near his kit again following the telling off I got!

Highest ever score?

157 for North Down.

Best figures?

7-21 on debut for NDCC 1sts.

Best player you’ve played with?

It would have to be Raman Lamba. A modern day bat in a past age. Should have played more Tests for India.

Best player you’ve played against?

Probably Brendon McCullum for NZ v Ireland. Such a clean ball striker.

Best piece of advice you’ve ever got?

Do your talking on the pitch.

Favourite match you’ve been involved in?

Selfishly my first Senior Cup final when I scored a 100 at the old Ormeau ground.

Favourite sport except cricket?

Rugby Union.

Favourite ground?

The Green, Comber.

UP CLOSE WITH…Albert van der Merwe

Albert van der Merwe played in nine ODI’s for Ireland, with his debut coming against the Netherlands in July 2010.

The 39-year-old is now head coach of the Leinster Lightning, where he has won five trophies, including the 2017 Inter-Provincial Championship.

Here, he reveals the best player he played with and against, favourite ground and much more.

First cricket memory?

Tagging along to the primary school with my dad around 5 or 6 years of age. He was a teacher and did some coaching at the school. Test matches in the garden with my brother Martin.

Highest ever score?

123 not out (The Hills CC v Leinster CC)

Best figures?

11/68 Ireland v Kenya in the ICup (5/41 and 6/27)

Best player you’ve played with?

Toss-up between Davy Jacobs and Paul Stirling

Best player you’ve played against?

AB de Villiers

Best piece of advice you’ve ever got?

If you are going to panic… panic slowly.

Favourite match you’ve been involved in?

If carrying drinks constitutes involvement then definitely the Ireland v England World Cup 2011 in Bangalore. Special memories.

Favourite sport except cricket?

Golf

Favourite ground? 

Newlands, Cape Town