It might only be the third round of Ulster Bank Premier League matches, but Jason van der Merwe knows the significance of Saturday’s game between North Down and Civil Service North.
The Stormont club have cultivated a reputation as a team that, on their day, can beat the very best opposition in the country while not truly being contenders for silverware.
An opening-day triumph over joint champions Instonians, followed by a hard-fought win over van der Merwe’s former club Muckamore, suggests that Nigel Jones’ men are ready for another crack at the title they controversially missed out on by a point in 2008.
As van der Merwe highlights, CSNI finished last season in almost unbeatable form, transforming a battle against relegation into a remarkable late run that included successive wins over Inst and a last-day triumph over North Down.
He said: “I think we have become a lot tighter than we were last season. We went on a brilliant run at the end of last season and since then we’ve added Shane Getkate so we should be stronger again.
“Now we are capable of pushing on in the league. If we can producing those performances every week we can be right up there.”
Saturday’s game could be season-defining and it is one North Down can barely afford to lose to opponents who would go eight points ahead of them with a win. CSNI’s batting could be key because even allowing for Getkate’s arrival, the visitors still rely on a top-heavy order.
Van der Merwe (22) though looks a better player than the youngster who finished last summer short of runs and confidence. A winter playing in the notoriously tough Grade cricket in the countryside of North South Wales has toughened his character and improved his technique.
“Australia was fantastic, a great experience,” he said. “I played A Grade, though because it was in the country it wasn’t as good a standard as you would get in Sydney or Melbourne. But I learn a lot, we were practising three or four times a week and we were playing two-day cricket so there was plenty of time to play yourself in. The pitches were great for batting.”
Van der Merwe was initially taken aback by the extent of the Aussie ‘sledging’ but before long he was dishing it out too. He showed plenty of that swagger in an impressive opening-day innings against Inst before getting out with a big score beckoning.
“I thought I started last season ok but the last eight games I was very quiet, I was pretty disappointed. I want to get more runs this season,” he said.
With his home-town club Muckamore promoted back to the top flight, a return to Moylena was mooted. But although Muckamore were keen, the Ireland under-age batsman was happy to stay at Stormont.
He added; “I just want to get as many runs as I can and help the team. I don’t set any individual goals, I’ll take it match by match. If we win on Saturday it would be three out of three which would be a fantastic start. But it will be a tough game.”