Writers’ predictions as Premier League clubs return to big NCU stage
After a wait of almost two years, 50-over cricket will make its return in the Northern Cricket Union this weekend with the resumption of Robinson Services Premier League play.
The easing of restrictions means all senior level cricket can return to a 50-over format and it will bring early challenges with it as players get back into the rhythm.
CIYMS are the reigning champions after finishing two points ahead of North Down in 2019, but will they retain their title?
Who will be crowned Player of the Year?
And which batsman will top the run charts?
Player of the Year
AB: I’d never seen Jeremy Lawlor bat before until Sunday’s T20 final against Civil Service North, but during his remarkable partnership with Jacques Snyman at The Lawn he matched the South African stroke for stroke.
Lawlor clearly has Ireland aspirations and with the international side fresh from a disappointing series defeat in The Netherlands, he is the kind of talented all-rounder Ireland should be considering in the long term.
JM: For this category you’re likely looking at an all-rounder who can contribute with both bat and ball, so my prediction is CSNI’s Luke Georgeson.
The 22-year-old has started life in the NCU in flying form and showed just what he’s capable of by blasting 93 from just 45 balls in a ridiculous LVS Twenty20 Cup final defeat to Carrickfergus.
He deserved a century that afternoon but it’ll not be his last opportunity to raise the bat this summer.
Shane Getkate is someone that I almost opted for.
Batsman of the Year
AB: I don’t recall such a stellar list of batsmen in the NCU.
Jeremy Lawlor is one of them, as is Luke Georgeson who played a stunning innings in the T20 final.
But if I was to highlight one batsman, it would be Chris Dougherty of CIYMS.
I admire Chris for the way in which he has developed his game over the last three or four years.
Initially when he came down from the North West, teams might have thought he was a bit limited in terms of his strokeplay.
But that’s no longer the case, he still has a solid defensive technique but his repetoire of shots has improved beyond all recognition.
JM: The answer probably lies somewhere in between Jacques Snyman and Andre Malan, but I’m not going to take into account overseas professionals so I feel confident on this one! (I think): North Down captain Alistair Shields is my selection.
It feels like he has taken his game to another level while embracing captaincy – often popping up with splendid innings - and he’s vitally important to their side.
He scored 343 league runs at an average of 28.58 across 2019.
And I’m expecting those numbers to be much higher this time around.
The likes of John Matchett, Chris Dougherty and Jeremy Lawlor will undoubtedly be contesting too.
Bowler of the Year
AB: The standout seam bowling performance I have seen in recent years was by Josh Manley in a complete dismantling of Waringstown’s batting line-up in a Challenge Cup tie at The Lawn when he was still an Instonians player.
Like so many cricketers, Manley’s 2020 was largely curtailed by Covid-19 but he will form a mouthwatering Lisburn seam bowling line-up along with Boyd Rankin, Matthew Humphreys and the evergreen David Simpson.
JM: The return of Jacob Mulder is very interesting and after taking 47 wickets in 2019 alongside James Cameron-Dow, I think the leg-spinner could top the charts again.
Graeme McCarter will probably play for Ireland this summer so may miss some games for Carrick and it’ll be the same for CIYMS seamer Mark Adair.
I predict Neil Gill will have a very good season for Carrick, as will CSNI’s Matthew Foster.
Boyd Rankin is another name that will be somewhere near the summit.
Premier League champions
AB: I’ve never known a season to be so difficult to predict, principally because we haven’t seen any 50-over matches in club cricket for almost two years.
Carrickfergus and CSNI looked to be the stand-out T20 sides, but whether that will translate to the 50-over game is difficult to predict.
It will be fascinating to see how it pans out, but I make CIYMS, the winners from 2018 and 2019, the likely 2021 champions.
JM: With the standard of the Premier League currently through the roof, this is almost impossible to predict but I guess that’s why we are here!
CIYMS will once again be the team to beat and Carrick’s recent success could give them a platform to achieve even more. But I’m going to go slightly outside the box and pick Waringstown for the title.
If James McCollum is able to play more games their top-order, that also contains Andre Malan, Adam Dennison and Greg Thompson, could be frightening. Graham Hume and Malan will bag a load of wickets.