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

IN REVIEW: Instonians captain Andrew White has ‘mixed feelings’ about 2018 season

Instonians suffered from a plethora of injuries during the 2018, with many key personnel missing at different points throughout the campaign, but they still finished fourth in the Premier League.

The Shaw’s Bridge side also reached the Challenge Cup semi-final before losing out by 72 runs to CSNI.

Here, captain Andrew White reflects on his first season in the job.

How do you look back on 2018?

I suppose I have mixed feelings, as do many of the guys in the squad. Generally at the start of every season you set out to try and win trophies, and we were certainly no different this year. Those best laid plans were quickly changed from an early part of the season when injuries to key players happened.

When you sit back now and reflect on how your season has gone, you look at the opportunities it gave to young players, and in some cases very young. When you see them do well, it gives you a good lift and all the senior guys really enjoyed watching the young players perform in the way they did.

It was your first season as captain. Was it tough with all the injuries?

It was my first season as captain and I couldn’t have done it without Gavin Rogers, who was a strong man behind the scenes and the support from the committee was outstanding.

They were fully supportive of playing the young guys. We could have kept turning to the likes of Eugene Moleon, who has been a great servant to Instonians over the years, but it got to the stage we knew there was a long-term benefit in playing the young lads, and they certainly didn’t let us down.

It feels as though you will be much improved with these young players getting a season under their belt?

The great thing about the guys who are pushing for representative honours, and that’s not just at senior Knights level – you have the likes of Oli Metcalfe, James Hunter and younger guys, and that’s really exciting to see them pushing themselves to achieve those targets.

The environment that we are trying to breed at Instonians is one that we want to see our club players achieve their potential, and that is at representative level as well. We are mindful of that.

The competitive edge of all of us wants to win trophies though, and that won’t be any different next year.

Nathan Smith returned to action late in the season. I’m sure as an Ireland selector and also Instonians captain you’re delighted to see him back?

He had a nasty injury, but the Irish medical staff and Nathan himself in terms of his attitude to getting back fit were great.

He went through a lot of hard yards behind the scenes with the medical staff and he certainly has the right attitude. Hopefully he can winter well and come back stronger next season.

You were the only team in the Premier League without an overseas professional this year. Would you look to get one in next year?

The last two years we have done it. We were in winning positions against Waringstown twice, we were in a good position against Civil Service North in the Senior Cup semi-final, and it’s in times like those that teams rely on their professional. We have been no different in time gone by in terms of those critical moments where the experience of a professional can be the difference.

I don’t know what the plans are in terms of looking ahead to next year and a professional. That decision might be dictated by the number of players we have lost through injury or representative honours.

You want stability, especially around the coaching side of things. A lot of guys who are in the Knights do a lot of coaching, so if they are missing midweek for one reason or another, it puts a strain on the coaching side of things. Those are all areas we will have to look at.

Looking to 2019, it sounds like you want to get back to winning trophies?

I suppose that is why we play at the level we do. We want to be competitive and we want to win. If anything, this year has probably demonstrated to us that when we are at full strength, we are more likely than not to be at the challenging end for trophies.

Don’t get me wrong, there is still quite a lot of pressure on the Knights guys to deliver in the club game and make sure they are putting in match-winning performances. There should always be a pressure on those guys to help us win trophies, and nothing will change from that point of view.

There was a lot of good cricket played around the country this year. The batting was certainly stronger than the bowling across the country, and I don’t think it’s any coincidence that CIYMS won the league because they have the most well-rounded bowling attack.

IN REVIEW: Carrickfergus captain Michael Gilmour reflects on the 2018 campaign

Carrickfergus again finished inside the top four in the Premier League in 2018, ending the season behind CIYMS and Waringstown in third.

Their record of seven wins, six losses and one no result seen them collect 28 points from 14 matches – finishing ahead of Instonians due to having a healthier run-rate.

A first round Challenge Cup exit to eventual finalists CSNI and a second round defeat to Leinster in the Irish Senior Cup meant they didn’t get much of a run going in either competition.

From a player perspective, captain Michael Gilmour top scored with 573 runs in 21 innings, while new signing Matthew McCord took 27 wickets.

Here, Gilmour reflects on the seasons that’s been and looks forward to 2019.

How do you reflect on the 2018 season?

Overall, I think we have to be happy. The main part of that is the finish in the league. We didn’t compete in any of the cups this year, which is something we would definitely love to improve on.

We want to have a couple of cup runs each year while also focusing on the league, but this year it was only the league that was very positive. Next year, we will try and focus on being more consistent throughout all competitions.

You have had a couple of top four finishes now in the league, so it seems you have established yourself as one of the top teams in red ball cricket?

I think finishing in the top four in the league has been the aim of ours in the last few years, and you want to make sure you keep that going.

The fact we didn’t slip away was very promising. At the same time, I don’t think we looked like challengers at any stage of the season. We want to really push on and compete for the title. It’s not very interesting just finishing in the top three or four each season.

At some stage we have to be ruthless and really push on to be competing for the league title.

You beat Waringstown twice this year. Does that show you have the potential to compete for the title?

When you look at how good Waringstown have been this year in all formats, to beat them twice and show that it wasn’t just a one-off gives us great confidence to see that’s the team we have the potential to be.

As I say, I don’t think we are consistent or clinical enough throughout the whole league season to push on at the minute. We definitely have confidence seeing where we are in terms of the standard.

We need to make sure we have a bit more self-belief and push on.

Matthew McCord signed from Cliftonville ahead of the 2018 season. I’m sure you’re happy with how he performed in his first season in the Premier League?

Yes, absolutely. I think he was pretty nervous at the start of the season to see how he would go, but that was quickly put in place.

He started off very well against Waringstown and has just grown in confidence the entire year. He has been one of the main players this season.

His bowling average and his contribution in the overall statistics this year speaks for itself, and I think he has really enjoyed it and he is now challenging for more.

When you get a player like him who isn’t only producing but is striving to get better as well, it’s outstanding for me as a captain to have someone like him in the team.

You scored over 500 runs yourself and got a great century against Armagh. Are you happy with the season you had?

Personally, I am pretty happy with my own performance. Maybe it was the pressure of having the captaincy as well made me knuckle down and focus more on my own personal game.

When you are captain, you try and lead from the front, so as long as I am able to contribute, it’s the least I can do. Hopefully it’s something I can build on to go even bigger next season or at least keep it consistent.

You captain quite a young side, with the likes of Max Burton, Jack Burton and Harry Warke all there. Are you happy with the season all the young guys had?

In terms of kicking on next season, when you look down the list and see you’ve such a young and exciting squad, it fills you with great confidence that we are building something.

When we talk about going on and trying to achieve something, it is a lot more realistic when you have the likes of Max, Jack and Harry coming through, as well as Matty McCord and other young players.

It’s the start of something exciting ahead of us hopefully.

Looking to 2019, what are you looking to achieve?

In terms of improvement from this year, we have to be more consistent throughout all the competitions.

As a young team, we always enjoy playing white ball cricket, and to not go on a cup run in that this year was disappointing.

Hopefully that is something that we can build on for next year.

UP CLOSE WITH…Kyle McCallan

Kyle McCallan is one of the best players Ireland has ever produced, and he again played a major role in helping Waringstown pick up four trophies in 2018.

The 43-year-old picked up 28 wickets at an average of 21.21, and also hit 270 runs, with his highest score of 75 coming in the Irish Senior Cup semi-final win against Strabane.

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

First cricket memory?

Watching cricket with my dad at Cregagh Cricket Club.

Highest ever score?

146* vs North Down and Old Belvedere

Best figures?

7-12 vs Ballymena

Best player you’ve played with?

I’ve been very lucky to play with some amazing players but Steve Waugh was phenomenal on and off the pitch.

Best player you’ve played against?

Brian Lara. Ability to hit the ball wherever he wanted.

Best piece of advice you’ve ever got?

‘If you put it in, you’ll get it out’ – Steve Waugh.

Favourite match you’ve been involved in?

Without doubt Ireland v Pakistan at Sabina Park, March 17th 2007.

Favourite sport except cricket?

I enjoy watching and coaching rugby. Playing wise, I would love to get the time to play more golf.

Favourite ground?

Lords, with the Wanderers, Johannesburg, a close second.

JM Sport 2018 NCU Team of the Year

Any reader that follows me on Twitter will know that I ran a series of polls to determine a NCU Team of the Year, so I thought it was time I picked my own.

Finding the right balance can be a tough task considering there are a lot of all-rounders towards the top of both the batting and bowling charts.

Also, some players batting positions will have to be adjusted around just to get them in the team.

I suspect we will have a similar outcome to the polls, but here is my attempt.

  1. Adam Dennison (Waringstown)

Dennison had the best season of his young career in 2018, scoring more runs than any player (1335) at an average of 51.35.

The 21-year-old scored four centuries and four fifties, with his highest score of 147 coming in the Premier League against North Down.

His most memorable innings will be the 145* he scored to lead Waringstown home in the Challenge Cup final against CSNI in late-July.

He helped the Villager’s win another four trophies in 2018, adding to the four they picked up in the season prior.

  1. James Hall (Waringstown)

Since 2006, Hall has hit more runs than any player in the NCU (9197), with 1247 coming in the 2018 season (second only to Dennison).

He is now just over 200 runs away from becoming Waringstown’s leading run-scorer of all time having collected 11315 in 345 matches.

Hall scores his runs quickly (strike-rate of 100.66), and he was one of the most consistent in the Union last season, registering nine half-centuries and two hundreds.

The partnership he has developed with Dennison over the past few years is incredible, and it is likely he will break a couple of records when 2019 rolls around.

  1. Andre Malan (CSNI)

Malan had a fantastic first season in the NCU with CSNI, hitting 940 runs and taking 43 wickets before heading back to South Africa.

The 27-year-old helped the Stormont club reach the Challenge Cup final where they were beaten by Waringstown, but with his likely return in 2019, Malan could push CSNI towards some silverware in 2019.

He averaged 47 with the bat, and was one of only two players to hit four centuries, and he only hit below fifty once in all the times I watched him play.

Malan had one of the best strike-rates (24.63) last season, and I expect he will another big season if he does indeed come back to Belfast for the next campaign.

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Andre Malan

  1. Marc Ellison (CSNI)

In his first full season back in the NCU, Ellison scored 1087 runs in 25 innings at an average of 49.41.

It was that kind of form that earned him a call-up to the Northern Knights, where he made his First Class debut in the Interpro Championship.

He was starting to fire in the last couple of games for the Knights, scoring 65 against the North West Warriors and then 64 versus the Leinster Lightning.

Ellison regularly fields in the slips, and took 15 catches last season, proving he has a safe pair of hands to take the edges my opening bowlers undoubtedly get!

  1. Ruhan Pretorious (North Down)

Pretorious ended the season in brilliant form to reach 1000 runs, ending on 1057 after back-to-back centuries against Armagh (188) and CSNI (124*).

The South African had the highest batting average of any player with his 59.28, and he scored his runs quickly with a strike-rate of 111.61.

He also had a good season with the ball in what was a summer for the batsmen, taking 33 wickets with best figures of 5-27.

Pretorious will be back at North Down in 2019, and they will hope the overseas professional can replicate similar form.

  1. Greg Thompson (Waringstown) (C)

Every great team needs a great leader, and that’s exactly what Greg Thompson is.

After winning four trophies in 2017, it couldn’t be easy to deal with the expectations and also having to be alert and on it for different formats and competitions the following year.

Yes Waringstown have a fantastic team, but Thompson proved that he isn’t scared to make big calls – for example, bowling first in the Challenge Cup final.

It isn’t just his leadership that makes Thompson a great addition to any team, it is also his 756 runs at an average of 42 and a NCU-high strike-rate of 124.75 in 2018.

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Greg Thompson with the Twenty20 Cup

  1. Chris Dougherty (CIYMS)

Dougherty again proved this season that he is probably the best wicketkeeper in the NCU, but also excelled at the top of the order to help CI pick up their first Premier League title since 2012.

He had competition for this position from Marcus McClean, but Dougherty takes the gloves having played a part in 36 dismissals and hit 803 runs.

His finest innings came in May against North County in the Irish Senior Cup, dealing with others falling around him to make 122 in a fine victory at Belmont.

Since joining from Bready, Dougherty has assisted in 193 wickets – the fourth highest since 2006.

  1. Nigel Jones (CIYMS)

It’s probably an injustice that Jones, who hit 710 runs in 2018, is batting at number eight, but such is the talent in the top seven there’s not much that can be done.

He has been the best all-rounder in the NCU over the past decade, and had another stellar campaign last season, taking 24 wickets in addition to the runs he collected.

Jones adds something different to the attack, using seam and swing to pick up wickets and he knows exactly what to do in every situation.

He deservedly won his first ever Premier League title after multiple attempts, and it is now his task to find a way of turning CI into an all-conquering side.

  1. Andrew White (Instonians)

Again, White doesn’t deserve to be batting so low, but he is being selected for his bowling ability.

The former Irish international picked up 30 wickets at an average of 16.77, which is the third best of any player to bowl over 50 overs.

His economy was also under four in all competitions, and his best figures of 5-28 came against Muckamore in August.

He also dealt with the array of injuries to key players at Instonians superbly well, so is another source of leadership in the squad.

  1. Gary Kidd (Waringstown)

No player has picked up more wickets since 2006 than Kidd, and he was the premier spinner in the NCU in 2018.

He picked up 45 wickets in 27 matches, with best figures of 5-14 coming in the last league game against Muckamore.

Kidd played a massive role in the Irish Senior Cup final, picking up the wickets of Merrion’s John Anderson and Michael Lewis to set Waringstown on their way to a historic sixth title.

The 32-year-old had an average of 17.18 and a strike-rate of 25.29.

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Kidd bowling in the Challenge Cup final

  1. Allen Coulter (CIYMS)

As mentioned previously, this summer was one for the batsmen, so it shows how well Coulter bowled to pick up 46 wickets.

The tally leaves him as the most successful fast bowler of the last 12 years, and he collected his best figures of 6-6 in 2018 against Downpatrick.

He and Jones have a terrific opening partnership, with the pair perfectly complimenting each others games.

Coulter also had the best average (12.87) of any player, best strike rate (21.11) of any player to bowl over 50 overs and fourth best economy rate (3.66).

*all statistics courtesy of CricketEurope StatsZone

UP CLOSE WITH…James Shannon

James Shannon registered his highest Twenty20 international score for Ireland over the summer when he hit 60 from 35 balls against India in June.

The 28-year-old has proven to be one of the very best players in the Interprovincial system over the past few years, and is the Northern Knights captain.

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

UP CLOSE WITH…Adam Dennison

Waringstown opening batsman Adam Dennison was the standout performer this year, hitting a NCU-high 1335 runs at an average of 51.35.

He hit a record 145* to help his side win their first Challenge Cup trophy since 2013 – one of four competitions won by the Villager’s in 2018.

The 21-year-old has formed a magnificent opening partnership with James Hall, who also surpassed the 1000-run mark (1247).

Dennison and Andre Malan were the only two players to hit four centuries, with Dennison’s highest score of 147 coming against North Down a week after his Challenge Cup heroics.

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

First cricket memory?

Watching my dad play cricket at Millpark at a very young age.

Highest ever score?

206 (Northern Knights vs North West Warriors)

Best figures?

1-1 off 1 against North Down. Got Ruhan out then Greg took me off.

Best player you’ve played with?

Pat Cummins (NCU academy game against MCC)

Best player you’ve played against?

Rashid Khan (U19 World Cup warm up)

Best piece of advice you’ve ever got?

Jonty (Simon Johnston) always told us to just relax and express yourself, and have some fun..

Favourite match you’ve been involved in?

Game that stands out was 2015 Irish Cup quarter-final at Clontarf. We got 320ish and they very nearly chased it..

Favourite sport except cricket?

Has to be football. Enjoy winters off watching Big Andy Mitchell at Glenavon.

Favourite ground?

I’ll be biased and say The Lawn, however Comber is a close second.

IN REVIEW: CSNI captain James Kennedy happy with 2018, but wants more consistency next year

CSNI captain James Kennedy is looking for his side to find more consistency in 2019.

The Stormont-based side reached the Challenge Cup final and Twenty20 Cup semi-final, but lost out on both occasions to Waringstown and North Down respectively.

They didn’t quite translate that form into the Premier League, and their poor start meant that it was decided pretty early on that they wouldn’t be challenging for the title.

A resurgence in the middle helped them move into third for a time, but they finished in 5th with a record of 6 wins, 7 losses and 1 no result from their 14 matches.

Here, Kennedy reflects on 2018, praises his star performers and sets out what he wants to achieve next year.

That’s another season over. How do you reflect on 2018?

There were a lot of positives that we can take into 2019. I’m very happy with how our Challenge Cup run went, but obviously disappointed we didn’t get over the line in the final. It’s been well-documented that we are just glad Grum (Graeme McCarter) managed to get through that game and get what was required. Hopefully we will have him fighting fit for next year which would help us as well.

In the league, we were slightly disappointed with the start we had. Throughout the course of the season, we lost four or five games that we probably should have won. Maybe we made bad choices at the time, or maybe some naivety.

I felt as the season went on that our younger players started to develop and learn, and hopefully they are in a better position going into next year.

You had Andre Malan in this year and he turned out to be one of the best players in the league. I’m sure you’re delighted with what you found in him?

Andre was brilliant. He wasn’t just brilliant on the pitch – that record speaks for itself. He did damage with the bat and ball, but he was just brilliant in the changing room. He was a great guy who got along with everyone, and we couldn’t have asked for more.

Hopefully he will be back next year as well, and will have an even better season than the one he has just had.

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Andre Malan

Marc Ellison also hit over 1000 runs. How important was he?

Elly is a superb player. We are running out of superlatives for him.

The argument can be that Elly and Andre did most of the work, and the rest of us need to step up and raise our game by another couple hundred runs. There was a bit of a tinkering period this year. We played around with the batting order to see who should go where.

We have learned a lot of things about a lot of people, and hopefully next year we will have something a bit more stable and will be able to support Elly and Andre much more.

The likes of Morgan Topping and Matthew Foster had good seasons. Are you expecting your array of young players will be even better with more experience?

Andre and Elly are the two guys that everyone will come away talking about because of the seasons they had, but our young guys developed so well.

Matty Foster and Archie (Johnston) were in the team for the whole season, and Matty in particular had a fantastic season. He could have bowled his 10 overs every week if it wasn’t for the ECB rule that he can only have seven at the start. He had a super season.

Archie made the gloves his own and hit a nice 50 against Instonians. The guys that came in like Morgan and Arny batted very well, and will hopefully push on next season now that they have more experience in the Premier League.

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Foster bowling against Carrickfergus

Looking to 2019, what are the goals?

CSNI for years have been known as a cup team, and we are a dangerous proposition for anyone on our day, but it’s just trying to find that consistency and get away from the tag that we are a cup team.

I believe that we can be more than that. We just have to raise our games for every single game, rather than the cup games that we have a good record in. It would be great if we can take that into the league and see if we can push up a bit.

There were a few games that we definitely should have won but lost, and that would have put us in a higher standing in the league if we got over the line. We are looking to win those silly games that we lost, and we will be a lot higher in the league.