As Marc Ellison takes a seat on the Stormont grass, he can’t take his eyes away from the action in the middle.
CSNI are locked in battle with North Down for a place in the semi-final of the Challenge Cup, and Ellison is living every moment, occasionally complimenting his team-mate’s shots and it is clear just how important this club and this sport is to him.
The 31-year-old has started the 2018 in blistering form, hitting 131 to help CSNI beat Bready and progress to the second round of the Irish Senior Cup, and also clubbed 97 from 46 balls in the Twenty20 Cup against Waringstown last month.
This kind of form hasn’t come by fluke or accident. Ellison has been working hard over the winter months with the Northern Knights, and has had to change his mentality completely to allow for constructive feedback from coaches.
“I’m reasonably happy with the start and if I can put my finger on anything it would be that I had a really good winter training with the Knights,” said Ellison.
“It was great to be facing high quality bowlers like Nathan Smith and Shane Getkate on a regular basis.
“That certainly put me in good stead and there was a change in mentality as well.
“When I was playing back home I was maybe a bit too fearful of getting feedback, so I have tried to be completely open to coaching staff and others to receive feedback such as where bowlers think they can get me out and areas where I can get better.
“Just being a little bit more open-minded has helped a lot. I’m trying to improve and doing that in a training environment will hopefully give you a better opportunity to have success in a match.”
From a young age, the dynamic batsman has wanted to play at the highest level and has dreamed of First Class cricket, and that dream became a reality when he was selected for the Knights squad to take on Leinster Lightning in the Interprovinical Championship game at the end of May.
Now that it’s here, he is determined to grab the opportunity with both hands and it has made him work even harder on his own game knowing there is another step-up required to succeed at that level.
“That’s been a really long process to try and play First Class cricket.
“It’s been a goal of mine since I was 11 or 12, and just having the opportunity to do that came a little bit sooner over here than I thought it might.
“It really has been a dream come true, but I would have liked to have done better than I have.
“The good thing is that we have an environment that is open and honest and I’m trying to work really hard on my own game because there is a difference between this level and the next.
“ I’m working hard to make sure I’m better prepared for the next game.”
CSNI have had a season of stark contrasts, going unbeaten in cup cricket but having failed to win a league game so far this season, and if that is to turn around, Ellison will have a big role to play.
He is a player who likes to set goals for the season, and he is looking towards the 1000 runs as a benchmark for this campaign.
“I do like to have goals, so there is no doubt that 1000 runs is the target you want to get to because that is the mark of a really good season.
“Now I’ve got off to a good start it’s about preparing for every game because every bowling attack is slightly different.
“I prepare for how I think bowlers will be trying to get me out, and when I get into the middle I want to be instinctive as I can be because it has served me well in the last few months.”
Ellison started his career as an overseas professional with Saintfield in 2010, before moving onto CSNI the following year, where under the leadership of Nigel Jones they got to the final of the Challenge Cup before losing out to Waringstown.
The Kiwi says he felt an immediate connections with the club, and it is clear that the feeling is mutual, as many members of the crowd stop for a chat as we make our way around the boundary rope and into position for the interview.
“A good friend of mine from youth cricket, Kieran Noema-Barnett was playing at CSNI but didn’t want to come back to the UK so he said the club wanted to catch up with me.
“Nigel Jones was captain and I came here in 2011 and had a really good season personally and we made the Challenge Cup final.
“ I loved the people and they are really loyal which I loved being around.”
After a year in Malahide and then five back home in New Zealand, Ellison is back and more focused than ever, and he still has ambitions of playing international cricket, but he is under no illusions about how hard he will have to work to pull that off.
“Ultimately I want to play international cricket.
“It’s a challenge being in full-time work and not being able to train so much, so for me it is a matter of making sure when I’m training it’s as intense and as purposeful as it can be.
“I am really going to have to bang the door down with a lot of runs, and I’m under no illusions about that.
“It’s probably the best way to do it and hopefully in the process of doing really well in club cricket and First Class stuff. I keep learning at each level what is needed for success and spending time with better coaches as you go up the levels and better players as well. I’m trying to pick up those little things that will make me successful.”