If there was ever a phone call that got the old brain ticking it happened at the weekend from the News Letter’s Alistair Bushe, asking me to select the best overseas professional eleven to have played in the northern cricket Union.
From the outset it didn’t seem that difficult but as Alistair came up with more and more names to remind me, just in case I’d forgotten, the difficulties started.
During this 40-year period the NCU been blessed with some excellent overseas cricketers, many who represented their country at test or odi. Level. So apologies in advance if I have forgotten or not selected your favourite professional.
There seem to be a plethora of opening batsmen, Matt Horne NICC, Partha Sharma Instonians, Subash Khirisagar Lurgan, Rizwan Woodvale, Rassie van der Dussen CIYMS all very talented openers.
However my two openers are Rahaul Mankad of Lurgan and Raman Lamba North Down. Rahaul was a very consistent performer, a great judge of a match situation and would have been a perfect foil for the late, great Raman Lamba. Raman had the film star looks but most importantly produced the goods with the bat for his clubs Norh Down, Woodvale, Cliftonville and Ardmore.
He won the player of a one day series between India and West Indies during the mid 80s, was a fitness fanatic and helped guide North Down to NCU greatness again, scoring over 1,000 runs in each of the eight seasons with the club. Number 3 is Gerard Dros who savaged bowling attacks during his stay at Cliftonville. The tall South African was an intimidating figure to bowl at, winning many games on his own.
Number 4 is AB de villiers, even though he only spent half a season in Northern Ireland, Carrick and NCU members will never forget his name. His double centuries were inspiring for those people fortunate enough to witness them. AB also doubles up as the wicketkeeper with apologies to Kieron More of Ballymena and India and John Lyons of Bangor and Lancashire.
Obus Piennar is at no 5, who could ever forget his exploits with the bat during the 2011 season with Waringstown, his reverse sweeps for six still vivid in the memory.
Taimur Khan fills the number six role, an absolute pleasure to play with this guy for 10 seasons at North Down, simply a great all round cricketer who could and did win many games with bat or ball, not withstanding his agility in the field. It was a travesty that Taimur was not selected for his country, losing out to lesser players in a politically fuelled policy which seemed to dominate Pakistan selection.
No7 is Akram Raza Woodvale, Brigade and Pakistan. Raza was a fine all rounder who would go on to represent his country at both test and one day level. He was a quickish, maybe negative off spin bowler who is probably best remembered by the Woodvale faithful for his epic 146 in the 1991 Senior Cup final at Downpatrick against North Down.
Kamal Merchant is my next pick, he starred for Downpatrick and Cliftonville during the 80s and early 90s. His bowling was his main weapon, a very smart seam bowler with a great slower ball. During his period playing in the NCU, Kamal was simply the league’s best bowler. It’s great to hear that he’s still passing on his knowledge to the kids at Dublin YMCA.
Another Downpatrick player makes my team, Aussie Damian Ryan was a class act for the Strangford Road side during the 1982 season, with his left arm bowling and hard hitting batting. His injury during the cup final against North cost Downpatrick the match, after taking 7/54 in the first innings. An exceptional player,it was a pity we only saw him for one season.
Taking the new ball would be Pulasthi Gunaratne, a sharp bowler who helped Waringstown to the league title in 2000. Gunaratne was another professional who played for his country shortly after his sojourn to Northern Ireland, representing Sri Lanka.
My number 11 is Uday Joshi who played for Armagh and Woodvale. Joshi,from India was a superb off spin bowler, bowling sides out on many occasions.
The team, of course would be managed by the late, great John Solanky. I say managed because they wouldn’t need coached. John arrived at Lisburn CC in 1978 from Glamorgan cc, he was an affable man with a superb cricketing brain, during his stay at Wallace Park he nurtured the youth superbly.
Apologies again to Subash Lurgan, Rizwan, Woodvale, Ijaz Ahmed, Waringstown and Belfast Harlequins, Rassie, ciyms, Rudi Bryson, Muckamore, Mark Harper, Donacloney, Rumesh Ratnayake, Downpatrick, John Lyons, Bangor, Kieron More, Ballymena,Matt Horne, NICC, Kevin Skjoldhammer, NICC, Partha Sharma, Instonians, Pieter Malan, North Down, Alfonso Thomas, Cliftonville. But as they say, you can only pick 11. R.Mankad,R.Lamba,G.Dros, A.B de Villiers, O. Piennar,T.Khan, A.Raza, D.Ryan, K.Merchant, P.Gunaratne, U. Joshi.