Instonians set up North Down semi-final clash after victory over Carrickfergus

Instonians booked their spot in the Robinson Services Cup semi-finals with a seven-wicket victory over Carrickfergus at Shaws Bridge on Saturday.

In the only top-flight game that was played, Carrick could only muster 81/7 before Instonians chased it down in 10 overs thanks to 28* off just 12 balls from Shane Getkate and Marcus Poskitt’s 25* off 18 deliveries.

They have now set up a semi-final with hosts North Down at The Green next Saturday and captain Andrew White was delighted to achieve their pre-season goal of play-off qualification.

“At the start of the year, that was our goal,” he said.

“We knew what we were trying to do with the players that we had.

“The 2s have won their league as well today which is fantastic and we have manged to get into the top four.

“For next weekend, it’s a case of never knowing what can happen.

“The boys are playing decent cricket. We have been a bit on and off but when we have been on, we have played really well.”

White has put an emphasis on youth development during this shortened campaign with seven players under the age of 20 in the side against Carrick while eight under-18’s helped seal the Junior One title for the 2nd XI earlier in the day.

It is a process that is working for them and White says it’s testament to the hard work being carried out by the whole squad.

“It was our target to see if we could get this team into the top four and we have done that.

“We have put in a lot of hard work. We have had 20+ players at training every night this year and it’s pleasing that the effort that has gone in off the pitch has been rewarded on it.”

Shane Getkate scored 28* on Saturday. ©CricketEurope

Lisburn’s home encounter with North Down and CIYMS’ game against Woodvale were both called off on Friday evening while Waringstown and CSNI’s winner-takes-all clash at The Lawn bit the dust due to a wet outfield.

With both teams receiving two points after no result, it ensured Waringstown’s qualification while CSNI moved up one spot into fourth, leaving Instonians needing to win and they did so comfortably, leapfrogging both sides into third position.

It means Waringstown will face off against CIYMS on Saturday in the other semi-final before the two winners return to Comber the following day for a final.

The bad weather has heavily impacted the final two rounds of league fixtures and White was just pleased to get some game time heading into a crunch weekend.

“A special thanks to the ground staff who worked tirelessly yesterday and all morning to get the games on.

“I know the weather has been tough but it has allowed us to get a win today and go into next weekend having played, whereas the others won’t have played in three weeks.”

North Down, who face CIYMS in the LVS Twenty20 Cup final at The Green on Sunday, will enter as favourites after beating Instonians twice already this season.

With the likes of Getkate in their ranks, you can never write Instonians off and White believes if his men show up, it could be a very competitive contest.

“North Down are a good side and have strength in depth.

“We have played poorly against them both times this year, but it’s a one-off game and we are good enough to turn them over if we play well.”

All-rounder to leave Armagh after five seasons

Neil Gelston will play his final game for Armagh next weekend before departing for Drumaness Superkings, ending a successful five-year spell with the club.

All-rounder Gelston, who has also spent time at CIYMS and Downpatrick, joined from Drumaness and this season went past the 100 wicket mark for Armagh.

He helped them gain promotion to the Premier League for the first time in over 50 years, playing a crucial role in their 2017 Section One title-winning side.

Armagh also picked up the LVS Twenty20 Trophy in the 2017 season, beating Woodvale in the final before Gelston went on to take 18 wickets in the top-flight campaign.

His final game will be on The Mall against Donacloney Mill next Saturday before heading back to his former club who merged with Belfast Superkings ahead of the 2020 campaign.

“I would like to take the opportunity to thank Armagh CC for giving me the chance to play for this fantastic club,” he said.

“After five years enjoying my cricket with the club, I now feel it’s the right time to move on and take up a new challenge back with Drumaness Superkings CC.

“When I signed, the aim was to establish the club back in Section One and improve the crop of players at the club, which I believe we have done with players showing great potential to match it with the best in the NCU.

“Never in our wildest dreams was the idea of Premier League discussed until the summer of 2017 when everything on the field clicked and we went on to achieve a memorable and history making league and cup double.

Gelston bowling for Armagh. ©CricketEurope

“I would like to thank everyone who welcomed me to the club, particularly the players who made my settling into cricket at Armagh very easy. Thank you to the committee, groundsmen and supporters also during my time with Armagh.

“Special mention must go to a couple of people. Steeno (Matthew Steenson, 1st XI captain) who has done and continued to do a fantastic job captaining the club.

“It takes a lot of commitment to captain a club, especially for the amount of time he has and he will go down as the most successful captain in Armagh history.

“Also thank you to the heartbeat of Armagh CC, Gareth (McCarter).

“The club is very lucky to have such a dedicated member who is involved in every aspect of the club. The time and dedication he puts into Armagh CC should never go unnoticed.

“Finally, I would like to wish the club every success in the future.

“Next week being the last game of the season, I couldn’t wish for a better place to finish my time with Armagh than on The Mall.”

Defending champions CSNI set to take on Waringstown in Gallagher Women’s Challenge Cup final

*The following is a NCU press release.

The Gallagher Women’s Challenge Cup final takes place on Sunday as Waringstown and CSNI face each other at The Lawn, Waringstown (10:30am).

CSNI captain Abbi Leckey will be hoping she will be holding the trophy aloft at the end of the game as they bid to retain the cup they won for the first time last season.

However, Waringstown captain Charlotte Lyons will be aiming to end the CSNI winning streak by leading her exciting young team to cup final glory.

On route to the final CSNI defeated North Down by 7 wickets in their first round match, followed by a five wicket win over former winners Lurgan in the semi-final, where Sophie Thomas was named Player of the Match after scoring 44.

CSNI know they will need to be on top form again if they are to overcome an exciting young Waringstown team.

Waringstown’s route to the final saw them defeat Instonians in a rain affected first round tie by 9 runs on run rate.

Their semi-final was a great game and saw them overcome last year’s runner-up Muckamore, chasing down Muckamore’s 136 total to win the game by 7 wickets.

Lyons, Gallagher Player of the Match in their semi-final, top scored with the bat (43*), leading her side to an excellent win over a very strong and experienced Muckamore team.

Both teams have shown excellent form this season so far. The 2020 Gallagher Women’s Challenge Cup Final is shaping up to be a great game between two evenly matched teams.

Will it be CSNI who retain the cup on Sunday, or will Waringstown continue their excellent form this season and lift the trophy on Sunday?

We await the outcome of what we hope will be a competitive contest to see who will be crowned Gallagher Women’s Challenge Cup winners 2020.

Waringstown: Charlotte Lyons (C), Cara Murray, Molly Mathers, Rachael Harrison, Rebekah Evans, Emily Mathers, Katie Patterson (Wk), Lois Lyttle, Abbi Harrison, Jennifer Hanna, Katie Hunter, Rachel Hanna

CSNI: Beth Healy, Sophie Thomas, Rachael Thomas (wk), Abbi Leckey (C), Aoife Fisher, Ash Healy, Jemma Gillan, Jemima Thomas, Nikhita Gondhia, Emma Scott, Annabelle Burton, Zoe Miller

CIYMS full of confidence as they look to defend LVS Twenty20 Cup crown

Defending LVS Twenty20 Cup champions CIYMS enter yet another final full of confidence as they prepare to take on North Down at The Lawn on Sunday (3pm start).

The Belmont side won the competition last year with a one-run victory over Waringstown at the same venue, which was just one of four trophies they picked up in 2019.

Reaching finals and winning trophies has almost become second nature for CIYMS in recent times, now making it to the decider in four of the last five competitions that they have been involved in.

They enter this one having lost only one game so far during a shortened campaign, which came at the hands of Instonians in the Robinson Services Cup, but captain Nigel Jones believes that defeat could have helped refocus his side as they enter a crucial period.

“As I’ve said for the last couple of years, it’s very rare where you go through a season without losing a game,” he said.

“As long as when you lose you’re learning quickly from it and it’s not a knockout game or one that will derail you.

“That loss against Instonians wasn’t the worst thing for us because it certainly sharpens the mind again and reminds us that we have to be switched on. The form is good and the boys are confident.”

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Nigel Jones was named Man of the Match in last year’s final. ©CricketEurope

CI welcomed Irish international Mark Adair back into their side for a semi-final victory over Lisburn before he picked up three wickets in their last outing against Waringstown.

The 24-year-old tends to thrive in the big games and Jones expects that will be the case again this weekend.

“It’s great to have him back.

“You expect him to turn up in those big club games and put in a performance.

“He’s very keen to take on that top-order role with the bat for us and we know what he can do with the ball with his skill. It’s a big positive to have him back in the team.”

Adair will most likely share the new ball with Allen Coulter, who has picked up nine wickets in all competitions.

With the likes of Jacob Mulder, James Cameron-Dow and Ted Britton bowling in the middle overs, Coulter plays a vital role in setting a platform.

“He plays a big role for us,” added Jones.

“In T20 cricket, the biggest thing is taking wickets.

“Containing the score is great and helps put the pressure on but you want it to lead to wickets and you get that with Allen Coulter, who has been quality over a number of years.

“He nails his yorkers, hits a good length and is a key bowler for us.”

This weekend is set to be a great advert for the local game with three finals taking place in the NCU while both CIYMS and North Down have already sealed their spots in the Robinson Services Cup semi-finals after a league meeting between the two was cancelled last Saturday.

These sorts of games are the ones that get players and fans alike most excited, and for Jones, taking part in occasions like Sunday is a big motivation.

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Mark Adair. ©CricketEurope

“That’s what drives and motivates you as a club cricketer.

“I know all of the boys are the same. They want the opportunity to play in these big games.

“From a personal point of view, I know that helps me with the stage that I’m at in my career.

“It adds that extra spice and it’ll be a cracking weekend.”

North Down have been in great form this season and have a number of players performing at a high level.

CI’s philosophy under Jones has been to focus inwardly rather than look too much at what the opposition are doing and he admits the chance to qualify for another All-Ireland Twenty20 Cup is a driving factor.

“We are always trying to focus on what we can do but looking at them, there is quality in the North Down side but as I remind the boys, there are plenty of threats in our side too.

“We will have to be smart with some of their individuals and restrict what they can do.

“We are fairly confident that if we stick to our plans that we can come out on the right end of the result.

“We had a lot of success last year but that’s in the past.

“We want to start afresh, win this trophy and get back into that tournament.

“We would love to get there again and see if we can win it again.”

“It was something really special for me” – CJ van der Walt reflects on Northern Knights debut

After making his Northern Knights debut in their two-run win over the North West Warriors last Thursday, CJ van der Walt is determined to work harder than ever to maintain his place in the squad.

The 23-year-old marked his maiden NCU season with Carrickfergus in 2019 by being named Premier League All-Rounder of the Year, scoring 403 runs and picking up 20 wickets in the league.

He ended the campaign with 653 runs at an average of almost 39 and 30 wickets in all competitions, helping the Middle Road side to their first Irish Senior Cup quarter-final.

Since moving to Northern Ireland, van der Walt has dreamed of stepping up to Inter-Provincial level and that’s something that has now become reality but it came as a shock to him that he was even included in the 13-man squad for the game.

“We got the message saying who was in the 13-man squad and I didn’t expect to even be in that,” he said.

“I haven’t had the greatest start to the season at club level. It was one of those things I’ve been really waiting for since I moved here.

“We rocked up at the ground and there were 12 of us so it was most likely going to be between me and Josh Manley.

“I kind of knew that I would probably play with the rain and going with another spin option might be the way.

“We were warming up and Johnty came over to me and said I was playing. I was sitting by myself doing some stretches and I couldn’t believe it.

“It was something that I was waiting for and now it has happened. It was something really special for me.”

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CJ van der Walt batting for Carrickfergus. ©CricketEurope

Van der Walt, who is in the squad again for Thursday’s clash with Munster Reds, shared the field at Bready last week with eight internationals, including the likes of Paul Stirling and Gary Wilson who each spent the best part of a decade on the County scene in England.

For a young player like van der Walt, being around that sort of experience is invaluable and he’s determined to learn as much as he can from the more senior players in order to improve his own game.

“My mentality when I went into it was that every opportunity I get I’m going to have to grab with both hands and use it.

“All of the players have much more experience than me so being in a team like that you look at how they go about their game and what they are doing to improve.

“You look at scenarios that you might struggle in, for example maybe bowling in T20’s, and you get to see how players who are at an international level go about it.

“You want to soak everything in and see how they go about their game and how they maintain their level.

“I remember saying to myself that it doesn’t matter where I bat but if I get the opportunity to get into the middle I need to use it.

“Being in the squad around such class players, I was just telling myself to soak up everything I could, speak to the guys and just see how they go about their games.

“I want to use my opportunity. I’m going to have to work harder now.

“I’ve got to the point where I got what I wanted but I need to rebuild now and start from the bottom.

“Those guys play so well because they put in the effort and that’s something I want to do and maintain.”

It hasn’t gone quite to plan at club level during the shortened 2020 season with the bat for van der Walt, hitting 81 runs in six innings but signs have been more promising on the bowling front, picking up seven wickets for winless Carrick.

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Van der Walt goes long. ©CricketEurope

“First of all, I think everybody had the mentality of there being no cricket this season because it didn’t look like there would be,” said van der Walt on where it has gone wrong.

“We were caught on the back foot with not much work going into the preparation.

“We had a really good pre-season before Covid and we were all positive, all at training sessions and all going hard and there’s definitely a lack of that during the season.

“I think we have been caught on the back foot going into the season and we had two games at the start of the season where we didn’t play the best cricket but could have won.

“We don’t have the amount of T20 cricketers than some other squads would have. T20 cricket is completely different to 50-over cricket and I don’t think we adapted quickly to that.

“It didn’t go our way and we have just been caught on the back foot with that.”

You would have got long odds on Carrick not picking up a victory across the duration of the Robinson Services Cup and they have one more chance to put that right on Saturday against Instonians.

Van der Walt believes a win this weekend would help boost morale as they head into pre-season to get ready for another campaign in 2021.

“We had a chat and going into next season there will be changes and we will be going hard.

“We want to make sure we are totally prepared.

“We want to just get that one win under the belt because that would give everyone a bit of positivity when there has been a lot of negativity.

“There hasn’t been many great performances but it has been people chipping in here and there.

“At the end of the day, if you want to play Premier League cricket that won’t be good enough.

“We play our last game this weekend and we will be pushing forward trying to get a win. We want some points on the board and to change the perspective a bit.”

“When we have small setbacks like this, it pulls us all together” – Jeff Maguire remaining positive despite Dundrum flooding

Despite their ground being flooded due to the rainfall brought by Storm Francis, Dundrum Chairman of Selectors and stalwart Jeff Maguire says it’s ‘far from doom and gloom’ around the club.

In photos and videos posted to social media on Tuesday afternoon, it was clear to see the damage that had been done to the County Down club’s home pitch with the whole ground submerged by water.

The rain is forecast to continue overnight and into Wednesday but Maguire doesn’t believe too much more damage will be caused and says these aren’t the worst conditions that the ground has faced.

“In 2008 we had a Sri Lankan professional over called Manoj Fernando (who lived on site) and he rang me one day saying I needed to get up there quick,” he said.

“I told him he would be alright because it was only water but he said I can’t swim! He was petrified.

“Water was coming up the path towards the pavilion and I will never forget it. It was worse then.

“The forecast says there will be more rain tonight and tomorrow.

“I don’t think there will be too much more damage because the river usually drops quickly. Big tides are the issue because that’s what backs it up.

“The big issue, and we’ve been saying this before, there is a drain that the Rivers Agency put in years ago that runs straight through our ground probably for a mile up into the corner.

“We have videoed where it is leaking and coming out into the ground, but the Rivers Agency says it isn’t theirs even though they maintain the bit at the end where the pipe comes out.

“They’ve put steps and rails down to it so we will be on to the local council when this is over.”

Maguire’s enthusiasm for Dundrum shines through in every conversation and he believes the ground is good enough to be approved for Grade One status by the Northern Cricket Union.

He predicts that within two weeks everything will be back to normal at The Meadow.

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Dundrum captain James Martin and Conor Moag out for a swim. ©Dundrum Cricket Club

“The good thing about it is that it wasn’t saltwater,” he added.

“If it was saltwater, there would be more damage.

“We were planning to do work to the square in 10 days time so that would have really ruined it.

“In 7-14 days, we will be back to normal.

“We have three ground staff – one is 60, one is 81 and the other is 82. They are three unpaid ground staff and they had the place in really good order.

“We have a new electric scoreboard, extensions at both ends of the ground, double sightscreens and new covers.

“I was looking to push this year to see why it’s not a grade one ground because we think it is. It doesn’t produce massive scores but it produces great cricket.”

Dundrum have organised a pre-season tour to Shropshire and are planning to once again bring their junior section across the water next summer.

Maguire is maintaining a positive outlook despite the setback and says it will bring everyone closer together.

“It’s far from doom and gloom,” he said.

“There is the captain and young fella out standing in it with water up to their waist smiling. There’s a buzz about the club at the minute.

“We were beat by one run by the Drumaness Superkings in a great game of cricket and we are still buzzing.

“We have organised a pre-season tour to Shropshire and we will go in the spring now because of Covid.

“We have plans to bring our juniors away somewhere next year because we are one of the few clubs that do it and we want to continue doing it.

“I think we are a very progressive club. I wanted that post up today with them out swimming because it shows it isn’t doom and gloom.

“No one has died. Newcastle has been flooded and homes have been ruined. We haven’t and we will get there. We have a very positive attitude about the club.

“We were burnt down twice during the Troubles and that helped rejuvenate the club. When we have small setbacks like this, it pulls us all together.”

Marc Ellison named in Northern Knights squad for Lightning clash

Marc Ellison has been called up to the Northern Knights side for their Inter-Provincial Series Twenty20 clash with Leinster Lightning at The Green on Tuesday.

The 33-year-old is the only new name in the 13-man squad, replacing Paul Stirling who has departed for England to join up with his new Northants team-mates ahead of the Vitality Twenty20 Blast.

Stirling’s absence leaves a gap at the top of the order and there are no shortage of candidates to fill it with Ellison, Ross Adair, Shane Getkate and Ruhan Pretorius all more than capable of partnering James McCollum.

David Delany should make his first Knights appearance of the season after also being included in the squad.

The Knights started their defence of the Twenty20 Trophy with a narrow two-run (D/L) victory over the North West Warriors at Bready on Thursday.

Although losing Andrew Balbirnie and Gareth Delany to the T20 Blast, Lightning head coach Nigel Jones still has a quality side to pick from with the likes of George Dockrell, Kevin O’Brien and Curtis Campher all set to play a role.

The last time the two sides met in the shortest format it was the Knights that won by eight runs on their way to lifting the title in 2019.

Squad: Gary Wilson (Capt), Mark Adair, Ross Adair, David Delany, Shane Getkate, Graeme McCarter, James McCollum, Jacob Mulder, Ruhan Pretorius, Harry Tector, CJ van der Walt. Marc Ellison, Josh Manley.

Team glory more important than personal achievement for Pretorius

Ruhan Pretorius has been in fine form for high-flying North Down this season and he is hoping to carry that into the Inter-Provincial Series with the Northern Knights.

The T20 Trophy gets underway tomorrow for the Knights, who are defending champions, when they travel to Bready to face the North West Warriors (1:30pm start).

Pretorius has scored 195 runs in seven innings so far at club level, helping the Comber side to a second-placed spot in the Robinson Services Cup and a LVS Twenty20 Cup final against CIYMS on Sunday.

The 29-year-old is one of many talented all-rounder options in the Knights squad, with the likes of Shane Getkate and Mark Adair also included, and Pretorius, who has collected 10 wickets this season, could also have an important role to play with the ball.

“I’m feeling confident,” he said ahead of the series.

“I’ve had a couple of scores and as everyone would say, I’m looking for time in the middle.

“I read the article with Princer (James McCollum) and I would 100% agree with what he said in terms of at this time of the season you’ve usually played more than 25 games and now you’re just searching for time in the middle.

“Even though I’m hitting it pretty well and you can hit it as well as you want to in the nets, you’re looking for the time in the middle.”

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Pretorius batting against Waringstown. ©CricketEurope

Pretorius’ runs have come at an uncharacteristic strike rate of 86.3 but his average of 39 is very healthy and he has helped the team to six wins from seven games in all competitions.

He is looking to speed up his innings and feels he could be in a better spot now after hitting 58* against CSNI last weekend.

“I’ve been getting starts which is good and getting myself in with the odd 20 or 30 and then a few fifties that I’ve had.

“It’s been good in the sense that I’m getting myself in and now it’s just about getting a better strike rate because I have been eating up balls.

“I will be the first person to say that I have been batting really slowly and in some sort of way I think it can put other guys under pressure.

“At some stages it has been me trying to bat quickly but because of the lack of cricket and first time not having cricket for the whole year, I’ve been playing catch up.

“I was saying to Johnty that even when I’m in the middle and trying to score, I’m hitting the ball straight to fielders or missing the ball that I’m used to hitting.

“I have spent a few innings batting through and at the weekend I got more time in the middle, so hopefully that has got me back on track and where I want to be.”

He has been opening the batting with Ireland international Paul Stirling for the last two games, with the pair putting on a stand of 71 at Stormont on Saturday.

Stirling will play his only game for the Knights this season on Thursday and Pretorius has been able to enjoy the best seat in the house for his 76 runs from 44 deliveries across two games.

“It’s been entertaining.

“It’s amazing to stand at the other end and watch one of the best Twenty20 players in the world.

“You have a front row seat so it has been cool to watch him play. You can also ask him any question and he will try to help and give advice where he can.”

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Paul Stirling batting for North Down. ©CricketEurope

The pair will walk out together in the final against defending champions CIYMS at The Lawn on Sunday in what promises to be a thrilling encounter.

The clubs play each other twice in as many days with a league fixture on Saturday and Pretorius is looking forward to the challenge.

“We have got ourselves into a final on Sunday against a team that deserve to be there because they are a team that wins trophies and that can be hard to do.

“We will have to be at our best even though we have the likes of Stirlo and Youngy.

“They also have guys that can win games for them so it’ll definitely be a good game.

“Hopefully the weather goes in our favour and we get a full game in.

“We have cricketers who have been hitting the ball as well as I’ve ever seen them like Ally (Shields), Ryan Haire, Peter Eakin – the boys are really hitting it well.

“Carl Robinson has been in super form with the ball and Youngy too. We can also mix it up with the likes of myself, Peter Eakin and Peter Davison.

“We have a good bowling attack and it’s about switching ourselves on.”

His immediate attention will be on Thursday’s game against the Warriors in what is just his third for the Knights.

Pretorius has played in 62 First Class matches where he has hit 2610 runs and taken 157 wickets so his big-game experience could prove crucial.

He qualifies as a local player at the end of next year so every game up to that point will be a chance to impress Ireland’s selectors, but the team result is more important to him than any personal goals.

“Even when I play for my club, I’m trying to play to the highest potential that I can.

“I think when I stop doing that it’ll be the time to give up cricket. Every time I step over the line is an opportunity to go and show the talent that has been given to me.

“ I would love for the T20 and 50-over series to go as well as possible but if I can win games for the Knights wherever I bat or bowl, that’ll show my performances.

“It’s more about winning games for me than doing well myself.”

James McCollum looking to make the most of Inter-Provincial Series opportunities

After sitting out of Ireland’s three-game ODI series against England in Southampton, James McCollum will be looking to make the most of the upcoming Inter-Provincial Series with the Northern Knights, starting with Thursday’s opener against the North West Warriors.

McCollum has played in nine ODI’s for Ireland since making his debut in February 2019 and scored consecutive half-centuries against Zimbabwe in Belfast last summer.

The 25-year-old was named in the 22-man party that travelled to the Ageas Bowl last month but wasn’t selected in the matchday squads with Gareth Delany instead preferred to partner Paul Stirling at the top of the order.

Since returning, McCollum has scored 109 runs in three innings for Waringstown at an average of 54.5 and strike rate of 111.2 as they attempt to qualify for the Robinson Services Cup play-offs.

He scored 57 in an 18-run defeat to CIYMS at the weekend and although he wasn’t in the middle during the recent international series, he was working away in the nets and feels his game is in a good spot heading into a busy late-summer schedule.

“It feels in a decent place,” he said.

“It’s a bit hard to tell because we haven’t had a lot of game time. Usually you’re sitting in August with 30 games or so under your belt but obviously we haven’t had that this year so it’s tough to gauge where you’re at.

“I worked hard in the nets over in Southampton for three weeks without playing much cricket but we were training most days.

“Simon Johnston sorted us out with a good training schedule when we came back so it’s been great to get a few games under my belt and get back with the Waringstown boys. I feel like I haven’t played with them in so long because I didn’t play many games for them last year.

“It’s great to be back there and scoring a few runs. We might have to win our final two games to qualify for the semi-finals so hopefully we can put in a couple of big performances.”

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James McCollum has been in fine form for Waringstown. ©CricketEurope

Being left out of any squad isn’t easy but given that the coronavirus pandemic had already wiped out the majority of McCollum’s opportunities for the season up to this point, it has left him (and many other players) without the desired rhythm and match practice.

The last competitive cricket he played before returning to the club game two weeks ago was on an Ireland Wolves tour to South Africa in February where he batted twice against Namibia, so he is looking to make the most of the run of Knights fixtures coming up.

“It’s always disappointing to get left out but I would pride myself on my work ethic and the thought put into my game and training.

“For me, I’m doing what I love and I’m waking up trying to get better whether I’m sitting on the sideline or not, but I do feel like I have a bit of a point to prove now.

“I’m not trying to look into it too much. It’s a small setback personally not playing those games but the guys did so well.

“The batters in the last game were unbelievable and it’s still great to be a part of even if I didn’t get to play.

“Hopefully I can take my opportunity when we play the 50-over games in the middle of September. I want to go out and keep enjoying my cricket.

“I know if I keep putting in the hard work that it’ll eventually pay off and I’m not too stressed about it.”

McCollum opened the batting for the Knights in the Inter-Provincial Trophy last season with Shane Getkate, scoring 59 runs in three innings at a strike rate of 134.1 and high score of 42* in victory over the Warriors.

He has worked hard on his white ball game over the past couple of years after excelling in red ball cricket earlier in his career, and despite his international status, he isn’t taking a place in the Knights team for granted.

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James McCollum batting for Ireland. ©CricketEurope

“It’s been difficult over the last 12-18 months because I was effectively just a solely red ball player even at the start of 2019.

“I scored a couple of hundreds for the Wolves which helped and with the lack of red ball cricket over the past year, I’ve had to really push myself out of my comfort zone in white ball cricket and get better in areas that wouldn’t have been my strengths.

“I feel I’ve done that to an extent but still have a long way to go.

“It’s quite exciting for me because I see myself as a red ball player but have had a chance to work on my white ball game.

“If you’d asked me 18 months ago would I be playing white ball cricket for Ireland, I would have said no so it’s a bonus for me.

“I don’t know if I’ll play in the T20’s because we have a lot of guys knocking on the door that have been playing well in club cricket.

“Ross Adair has been scoring runs and Marc Ellison is very unlucky to miss out on the first game as he’s a seriously good player.

“The Knights are now in a position where we are leaving out players who are scoring consistent runs.

“If I get the opportunity, hopefully I can go out and express myself. If not, I’ll keep working hard.

“If I think back to where we were two seasons ago and compare it with the depth we have now it’s ridiculous.

“A lot of credit has to go to Gary Wilson and Simon Johnston for really sorting out the structure we have in place now and everything behind the scenes that you don’t see on the pitch.

“Stirlo coming back is going to be a massive help even though it’s only for one game and you have these guys coming back from County cricket that we can learn from.

“They’ve almost professionalised the set-up a bit more and it’s as competitive as it has ever been.”

The Knights will be looking to build on their success of 2019, where they beat all three teams in as many days to lift the Trophy title.

They seem to have all bases covered and it’s now just about showing it on the pitch, starting this week before hosting Leinster Lightning at Comber next Tuesday.

“We played good cricket in the Festival down at Pembroke.

“When we are on form, we tick all the boxes but it’s tough because you don’t know whether lads will be rusty or not.

“We hope that guys getting club cricket in will help and we will go out to play fearless cricket and enjoy ourselves like we did last season.

“I remember we were very good in the field last season and we have set the benchmark there so we will be looking to pick that up again, express ourselves with the bat, have clear plans with the ball and hopefully execute.”

Gary Wilson full of confidence ahead of Inter-Provincial campaign

Northern Knights captain Gary Wilson is entering the 2020 Inter-Provincial Series full of confidence that his side have what it takes to lift more silverware.

In his first full season back in the NCU last year, Wilson helped lead the Knights to their first competition victory in six years when they won the Twenty20 Trophy.

Fast forward a year and confidence has grown even more in the camp with Wilson just one of nine Irish internationals that will be in the 13-man squad for the opening game against the North West Warriors at Bready on Thursday.

There was originally 11 internationals in the team but Greg Thompson and James Cameron-Dow won’t be involved in the first game with Josh Manley and CJ van der Walt stepping in.

Competition for places in the matchday squad is fierce, especially at the top of the order, and Wilson says his men will be entering the competition believing they have what it takes to come out on top,

“There is really good competition for places,” he said.

“You just have to look at some of the names that have missed out who are very good cricketers and proven at Inter-Pro level.

“It’s a good place for the selectors, coach and captain to be in.

“It’s great to have options.

“We have Stirlo, James (McCollum), Shane (Getkate), Mark and Ross Adair and Ruhan (Pretorius) that can all potentially open the batting in Inter-Pro cricket.

“We then have myself and Harry to bat in the middle and any of those six can bat 5, 6 or 7.

“We are very well set and are a very good team so want to approach the games with that attitude.

“We don’t want to be cocky or arrogant but we want to approach the game with a swagger that we believe we are the best team in the competition and that’s no disrespect to the other teams.

“It’s been a long time since the Knights have been able to approach games with that attitude but if you look at the way we shape up, we deserve to be able to turn up with the attitude that we will win the game.”

50 over

Northern Knights last season. ©CricketEurope

The Knights have been able to develop a squad with real depth, meaning they will likely bat right down to number 11.

That will allow them to continue going hard at the opposition throughout the innings but it’s also about playing smart cricket for Wilson, and he is confident they have the players to successfully negotiate anything they come up against.

“It’s going to be really important to assess the conditions.

“If you rock up and you see the pitch is a green top, there’s no point shooting for 200+ if 150 is a winning score.

“At the same time, if the pitch is good we have the batting order and firepower to be able to shoot for the stars.

“Whatever pitch we see, we believe we have the attributes to combat the attack and pitch.”

One man that is guaranteed his spot at the top of the order is Paul Stirling, who will play against the Warriors on Thursday before departing for the T20 Blast in England where he will join up with his Northants team-mates.

The 29-year-old has been playing for his new club North Down over the past couple of weekends and Wilson says having him present even for one game boosts the competition massively.

“He will bring another dimension to what we already have and he is excited to play.

“It’s great for the competition that he’s able to play one game.

“I think the Inter-Pro’s are all about raising the standard of cricket in Ireland and winning for the Knights will hopefully be a by-product of that.

“When we take the field, we will be doing everything we can do to win but the most important thing is that Irish cricket is in a good position and to have guys like Paul Stirling playing in the competition can only help that.”

PStirling2

Paul Stirling batting for North Down. ©CricketEurope

Wilson himself has only batted once in a competitive environment so far this summer, hitting 11 for CSNI on Saturday in their Robinson Services Cup defeat to North Down.

He was left out of the matchday squad for each of Ireland’s three ODI games against England in Southampton and although not entering the Inter-Pro’s with much match practice under his belt, it will be a case of backing experience and skill.

“It’s the 18th of August and I’ve had one competitive hit so it isn’t ideal but I’m 34 years old so I’ll go back to the well.

“It’s not like I’ll be learning anything new from competitive hits it’s more match practice that I’m missing.

“In an ideal world, I would have had more match practice but it is what it is and a lot of people are in the same boat.

“I was disappointed to not get a game in Southampton but I understand the reasons and I’m looking forward to the series now to go out and play with a bit of freedom.”

He will be leading a Knights side that have so much potential and Wilson says the hard work that has been put in over the years is now showing.

“It’s been in the pipeline for some time.

“The guys put in so much work long before I got here.

“The work that Simon and the guys have been putting in over the last three or four years is starting to come to fruition now.

“We deserve to have a reputation of not just being able to win games but I would think teams now look at us thinking we are a good side.

“That’s up to them however they want to look at us but we want to approach the game knowing we are a good side, play with that confidence and hopefully the results take care of themselves.”