Now that the season is all but over it is worth noting Waringstown’s almost compete domination of the NCU Premier League stats. They produced the best individual batting average, the highest individual aggregate runs, the best individual batting strike rate, the best team run rate, the best batting aggregate, the best bowling average, the best bowling economy, the highest team score (five out of the top six), the most catches, the most centuries by a batsman and probably another set of figures that don’t feature in the superb set of numbers that John Boomer produces every year.
Add the Irish Senior Cup and the Premier League title and there isn’t any doubt about the NCU Team of the Year.
It was a magnificent season for the Villagers and for several of their best performers. Opening batsman James Hall was tremendous with 1,104 runs, five centuries, including two double centuries and the best batting average of 81.43. His strike rate was 94.83 and if he’s not Ireland material then who is?
The evergreen Kyle McCallan remains peerless and topped both the bowling averages and the economy rate. At 2.8 for 140 overs he was the gem in the Waringstown bowling crown although well done Phil Eaglestone with 44 wickets. It may seem a long way from the great years of Monteith, Corlett and company, but modern cricket is set up for batsmen, even if bowlers win matches. Ruan Pretorius had the best strike rate at 136.76 and Greg Thomson took the most catches. However, how many times did he produce match-winning cameos down the innings?
Most of the overseas professionals performed well, particularly South Africans ‘Rassie’ van der Dussen at CIYMS and Peter Malan at North Down. However, they did not dominate the stats as in the past and from the evidence of this year local players have not only closed the gap, they have lifted their game to meet the challenge. NCU cricket has certainly moved to another level with eight scores above 300, admittedly five from Waringstown, including the 420-6 pounding of Carrickfergus. The sceptics might claim the standard of bowling has declined, but this is perception rather than reality. The game has a more volatile dynamic than yesteryear with strike rates and economy rates much more important than averages and aggregates, something the dinosaurs can’t get their head around. Cameo innings can win matches and a bowler taking a few wickets at the death can also be a big match winner. It all adds up to more exciting cricket and a different culture from cricket a few decades ago.
Teams and individuals in the Premier League should take advantage of the excellent Cricket Europe stats to review their strengths and weaknesses. Several team performances stand out, Waringstown apart. North Down punched above their weight with a young team and could have won the title had they beaten Waringstown. Admittedly, that was a tall order, but few pundits would have given them that chance pre-season. They did win the Ulster Cup, which should stand them in good stead going forward. Instonians were always off the pace and lost key matches against their closest rivals, while CIYMS will take pride in winning the Senior Challenge Cup and the Twenty20 Cup. They looked invincible pre-season, but their rivals rose to the challenge and that produced some exciting tight matches. Carrick and Lisburn were the great survivors, but Ballymena struggled throughout the season and will return to the Premier League a better team once they rebuild in Section One.
There were many excellent individual performances outside the Waringstown invincibles mentioned above. It was great to see James Shannon back to his brilliant best, and young James McCollum establish himself at this level. Neil Russell’s strike rate was again impressive and Regan West showed some of his old form with two centuries after his horrific injury woes. Chris Dougherty was the top wicket-keeper by a distance and also had a fine season with the bat, while his teammate Trevor Britton had some terrific bowling spells. But the big mover was leg spinner Jacob Mulder at North Down, who really came into his own at The Green on a friendly batting track and proved more than a capable replacement for James Cameron-Dow, who did well at Belmont. All-rounders are worth their weight in gold in modern cricket and Peter Eakin was the pick of the local players this season and seems to have recovered from the injuries that plagued him last year.
On the evidence of the 2015 stats there is plenty of talent in NCU cricket and Waringstown and CIYMS have set the benchmark for other teams to reach. On reflection the spread of the major trophies was probably fair over the season, but looking at the Waringstown stats it shows what everyone has to do to match them.
The only ‘trophy’ left to win is the aggregate attendance at this year’s Annual Dinner in the Clayton Hotel on Saturday 10 October. Who will bet against the Villagers adding it to their impressive stats this season?
Let’s come out in numbers and salute our best performers. They have earned that respect.