Instonians are ready to shine ahead of season opener

Nikolai Smith is the new Instonians captain
Nikolai Smith is the new Instonians captain

To use some poetic license around Shakin Stevens Christmas hit, “snow is falling, all around me, cricketers playing, having fun.”

Yes it is the start of a new cricket season once again, but certainly no-one seems to have told the weather!

Tomorrow sees the opening fixtures of 2016 scheduled to be played and no doubt an enthralling few months lie ahead.

Change is afoot and there have been the usual machinations with comings and goings throughout the winter.

Perhaps the evidence is most apparent at Belmont where Challenge Cup holders CIYMS have been at the centre of much transfer speculation and the most recent move has seen Stephen Chambers arrive from Lurgan.

Undoubtedly though we are all eagerly anticipating seeing how Justin Kemp shapes up in the NCU and if the snow relents Derriaghy could make interesting viewing.

It is a baptism of fire for the new boys at Queensway under the captaincy of Craig Lewis but think no further back than the opening fixture of 2013 when Lurgan caused an upset as I am sure CIYMS coach Derek Heasley and Chambers need no reminding.

For me though perhaps the most interest is at Instonians who seem to have quietly assembled a squad that seems to have better looking balance about it than in recent years.

Another big name South African in the shape of Rusty Theron will certainly add menace to the seam attack, which previously was an area of weakness.

Nikolai Smith is the new skipper and he gave me his views about the role and challenges ahead.

“I am delighted to be leading the side and am looking to build on the platform left by Neil Russell and Eugene Moleon,” he said.

“We have a good squad both in terms of experience and the younger players we are looking to bring through.

“Everyone is well aware of the capabilities of the likes of Andrew White and James Shannon; indeed Whitey seems to have been rejuvenated and is looking in great form in pre-season.

“I want him to really enjoy his cricket this year,” added Smith. “I don’t want us to get ahead of ourselves but to simply take it game by game.

“Now is the time for others like myself, Stephen Bunting and Jordan McClerkin to step up and make major contributions.

“Yes, we have now plenty of options on the seam attack, with the addition of Robert McKinley and a young all rounder from Australia Nathan Smith.”

Looking at the squad Instonians suddenly have pace support for Bunting with McKinley, Nathan Smith, Theron and indeed the skipper himself all capable of taking the new ball.

On the batting front Neil Russell looks like he will be available for most of the season and McClurkin has already put down a marker with a pre season ton.

First up, CSNI at Stormont and certainly Instonians have held no fears recently for Andrew Cowden’s team.

Graeme McCarter is a more than decent replacement following Allen Coulter’s move to CIYMS, Alan Blain gives another seam option and Dylan Agnew is an attacking wicketkeeper batsman – promises to be an interesting contest.

In the other Ulster Bank Premier League games champions Waringstown travel to Lisburn and North Down host Carrickfergus. In the preliminary round of the Arthur J Gallagher Challenge Cup Donaghcloney face Academy and Saintfield take on Armagh.