An eventful 2017 NCU cricket season is over and here Alistair Bushe and David Holmes pick their highlights from the summer.
NCU player of the year
David Holmes: One man has stood out and that is the Northern Knights captain James Shannon. This year he has begun to fulfil the potential we all know he possesses and has combined the ability to concentrate for long periods holding an innings together whilst as the same time showing exquisite timing and striking power at the top of the order in the shorter format.
Alistair Bushe: Like a fine wine, he gets better with age. Nigel Jones never ceases to amaze me, he is batting as well as he has ever done, and few seamers are better at exploiting helpful conditions.
Overseas professional of the year
DH: The man with the beanie, Matt McGillivray, started the season unproven and unable to bowl with a back niggle, the CIYMS professional has answered the doubters and then some, adapting his game superbly to local conditions. The stats don’t lie; top of the batting averages with 55.45, top of the bowling averages at 13.72, most wickets with 39, throw in nine catches on top of all that, he is likeable, in my eyes the complete all-round package.
AB: I hear David’s case for Matt McGillivray, and Shaheen Khan was integral to Waringstown’s success, but for me, Ruhan Pretorius from North Down was the standout. He’s pure box office with the bat, especially in Twenty20. He’s young enough to get better too.
The best match you saw this season
DH: I had the privilege to watch a number of tight games, a one-run win, one-wicket win, but for me the best match was Waringstown’s two-run win against Muckamore at Moylena in that it literally became a season-defining moment. Waringstown apparently in control having reduced Muckamore to 73-7 only for Neil Gill to launch a one-man assault with 66 from 41 balls, then to watch in agony as last man Gary Nicoll was run out. Who knows how the season would have turned out had Waringstown lost; as it was exactly three months before they had their next and only further loss in the league.
AB: I didn’t see anywhere near the same number of games as David, so I’m working from a smaller pool. But the most thrilling advertisement for local cricket I saw was undoubtedly the Twenty20 Cup final between Waringstown and North Down. James Hall hit a stunning century but while Ruhan Pretorius was still there, it was a real nail biter.
Best local bowler of the season
DH: Once again Kyle McCallan proved himself to be the best off spinner in the union and played an integral part in Waringstown’s success taking 30 wickets at an economy rate of just over three, no substitute for experience. Best individual performance though goes to his teammate Gary Kidd taking 7-9 in 10 overs against North Down.
AB: Neil Gill has long been the most outstanding cricketer outside the top flight, so it was wonderful to see him return to the Premier League and take 30 wickets for Muckamore. He can bat a bit too!
Best local batter of the season
DH: Ally Shields led the North Down renaissance this season - delivering on his potential - 19 innings, 874 runs, nine fifties without ever reaching three figures, sacrificing that personal landmark in the interests of team victory with his 98 not out against Instonians. Innings of the season a remarkable 120 off 61 balls (10x4’s, 8x6’s) by Ruhan Pretorius in T20 semi-final against Muckamore.
AB: Adam Dennison looked like he would win this honour hands-down with the way he destroyed bowling attacks for the first half of the season, but I agree with David, you can’t look past Alistair Shields. The Knights should be knocking his door down!
NCU Premier League team of the season
DH; Probably the easiest question to answer! Unparalleled season for Waringstown, from May 20 the club only lost two games of any consequence as they collected four trophies including a record equalling win in the Irish Senior Cup. In my way of thinking the absolute epitome of “there is no one in team”. Looking at the end of season averages, no real stand out individual performances to boast about, but when it mattered someone put their hand up to be counted. What can they achieve if a couple of players were to have a stellar season with either bat or ball?
AB: You can’t look past Waringstown. In some previous campaigns they have dominated the averages but ended up short of trophies. This season was the opposite, no-one necessarily stood out, and their success was testament to an all-round effort and some astute captaincy from Greg Thompson.
Best cricketer outside the top flight
DH: Jarred Barnes made a huge contribution in a double-winning season for Armagh, showing his ability with both bat and ball and his presence will be missed next season as Armagh join the Premier League. Notable performances came from Ryan Smith for Downpatrick with his 249 not out. In Section Two Cregagh’s David McCormick remarkably took 8-7 and won the Cricket World performance of the week.
AB: You can’t look past Jarred Barnes, and what a performance from David McCormick. It will be great to see Cregagh in Section One next season
Team of the year David Holmes: James Hall, Adam Dennison, Chris Dougherty WK, James Shannon, Ally Shields, Nikolai Smith, Nigel Jones, Kyle McCallan, Neil Gill, Nathan Smith, Gary Kidd.
Team of the Year: Alistair Bushe: Adam Dennison, Nikolai Smith, James Shannon, Alistair Shields, Nigel Jones, Greg Thompson, Iftikhar Hussain, Kyle McCallan, Jamie Magowan, Nathan Smith, Neil Gill.