Andre Malan was perhaps the standout player in the NCU last season, hitting 940 runs and picking up 43 wickets in 22 matches before departing for his homeland of South Africa a couple of weeks before the 2018 campaign ended.
Somehow, the 28-year-old has found a way to be even more impressive and clinical in 2019, becoming the first player to reach 1,000 runs this season while also sitting top of the wicket-taking charts.
It has been quite the run for Malan at Belfast club CSNI, and although it will be another season without silverware at Stormont, they have shown signs that another trophy might not be too far away if they can just improve their consistency.
Indeed Malan’s numbers are even better when you take into account the sprained AC shoulder joint he picked up towards the start of the season.
“I would say it’s going how I expected it would go,” he said.
“Last season, I had numbers in mind in terms of my individual performance but you had to take into account the weather and the pitches. It isn’t always easy, so numbers and averages can only go so far.
“Some players get caught up in batting for averages and don’t want to get out when they should be accelerating. I’m focusing more on my aggregate runs rather than average, so in terms of that it’s gone according to plan.
“Last season, I left runs out there and I have this season too, but it’s less than last season. From a bowling front, it has gone how I thought it would go.
“The last month-and-a-half has been tough because I’ve picked up a sprained AC joint. The recommended recovery time for that is eight weeks of no action, but it’s been eight weeks of having 10 games or so.
“I’m just managing it at this stage but it’s all going according to plan.”
Malan has also been performing admirably back in South Africa and was named CSA Club Championship Player of the Year last season.
He captained his new side Western Province following a move from North West, and he is looking to bring certain aspects that he has been working on here back to the Southern Hemisphere.
“The difference in terms of weather and pitches was something to get accustomed to,” he said. “Captaincy was interesting in terms of everything you have to keep your mind on. That was a challenge but a good one to overcome.
“It went really well but I’m looking forward to this season back home because there are a few things I’ve been working on over here which I will try to put into my game.”
A major difference for Malan this season is that wife, Elzane, has made the trip to Northern Ireland and the pair have been able to spend the whole summer together at their home in Belfast.
He believes having her here has helped him have a positive impact on the pitch and says the pair, who have been married for six months, enjoy the city and life here.
“We love it here,” he said. “Fifty per cent of the reason I came back was that I love Belfast - the club as well, but Belfast and the place as a whole has been brilliant.
“My wife and I have seen it as an adventure and you don’t get that chance very often. Friday was our six-month wedding anniversary, so to have her over here experiencing it like I did last year is very nice.
“I would say it’s more satisfying in some aspects.
“What satisfied me last season were certain challenges I had to overcome, like being away from home for four months, which I had never done before and being away from Elzane for three-and-a-half months. It’s more enjoyable being together every day and just experiencing the UK & Republic of Ireland has been really enjoyable.”
It isn’t just all about cricket for Malan and he is very aware that this period of his life will have to end at some point, so he has been setting himself up away from the sport by collecting degrees in Industrial Psychology.
He will soon start a higher certificate in fitness before hopefully going on to study for a sports science degree to start up a business which clearly excites him.
“I want to play cricket for as long as the people giving me contracts think I’m good enough, whether that is for the next year or 10 years. It depends on powers outside of my control,” he said.
“In a few years, I want to obtain my sports science degree and then combine all that study and knowledge together after cricket to create a business, which I have big plans for.
“I think it’s going to be special with certain plans I have collaborating with sports people around the country and world. I’m lucky in terms of having a wide variety of friends that play a whole host of sports and family which play the same sport of me.
“The combination between that and a few people I’ve been fortunate to meet back home in academics and overseas, it’s a business I’m very excited about.
“Hopefully I only have to create that business in 11-15 years rather than next year!”
After enjoying his past two seasons with CSNI, Malan would be interested in returning in 2020 if his circumstances remain the same.
“Next year, Elzane wouldn’t be able to come back if I do,” he said. “It depends on the club as well, in terms of their focus for the next seasons. It depends on the type of player they want. If the circumstances don’t change, I would love to come back.
“It seems there is a big possibility the system back home might change back to the original provinces, where we have 12 provincial sides and six franchises.
“Seemingly there will be changes and if that happens I might be needed back home in terms of training with a new side. You’d want to spend the winter impressing the new coach there rather than come in September.
“If circumstances stay the same, I can definitely see myself coming back if the club want me. At this stage, we are not that close to knowing what will happen.”