Wellington may be over 11,000 miles away from Northern Ireland, but the impact of talent from New Zealand’s capital city was certainly felt in the Northern Cricket Union last weekend.
Luke Georgeson – who played for the Wellington Firebirds during the winter – struck 106 in CSNI’s victory over Instonians.
Then there was Waringstown’s new overseas professional Jamie Gibson (also a Firebird) who wasted no time in showing what he’s all about by picking up figures of 6-23 before contributing a fluent 39 in an opening day win against Woodvale. Gibson has played 20 First Class matches throughout his career, scoring 704 runs and collecting 22 wickets, and is thoroughly enjoying his first trip to this country.
“I’m absolutely loving it,” he said.“The people have been so good to us, particularly the chairman who has gone out of his way. It has been easy and everyone is really lovely in the club. We are gelling so hopefully there’s a big season ahead.”
This is the 29-year-old’s first stint as an overseas professional since 2016 when he played for Normandy in the Surrey Championship after spending the previous year in London with Hampstead. Gibson is excited by the opportunity at Waringstown and is keen to make his mark not only on the field, but also provide assistance off it too.
“It has been a while,” he added.“We were supposed to go over the last couple of years, but Covid intervened. The main motivation for me is the new experience itself. Living somewhere different and meeting new people is what I will value the most when cricket is finished for me. It’s also about playing in a strong league and challenging myself as a pro as it comes with different expectations. It’s important to me to contribute on the field but also around the club and make sure I’m helping out as much as possible.”
Even with his experience, Gibson still felt the nerves ahead of last weekend’s first match but did a good job of hiding them when it came to game time. He made a perfect introduction to the home faithful by picking up five of the first six Woodvale wickets to fall before returning to collect a sixth and will be hoping to repeat the feat when The Villagers take on Carrickfergus (today) and CIYMS (Monday) this Bank Holiday weekend.
“I was nervous on Saturday morning,” he said. “You never know how you’re going to play so to start like that helps to settle the nerves. I’m also aware that those sort of relatively freakish circumstances won’t be happening every week. I really enjoyed it and I’ll be doing as much as I can to make sure it happens as often as possible. I’m just really glad we had a lot of guys contribute – it’s important at the start of the season that guys have a go at their role early on and it seems like everybody got that opportunity.”
The standard of cricket in the Robinson Services Premier League has gone through the roof in recent seasons with international and First-Class players galore plying their trade, and the Waringstown squad is packed full of quality. James McCollum scored 43 before he was run out, Adam Dennison contributed 32 and any team that has a player like Greg Thompson – one of the most destructive batters in the league – coming in at number seven is clearly a formidable one. Kyle McCallan is also still going strong at 46, bowling his 10 overs for 23, and Gibson is embracing being involved in that environment.
“It’s been great,” he said. “I have got to know Kyle pretty well early on and he’s great fun and still an amazing bowler. I call him the Irish Daniel Vettori with his changes of pace! We have James McCollum who I can already see is an amazing batsman and I have really enjoyed batting with him. We have some really aspirational cricketers around like Morgan Topping and some other young talent as well.”
It is also an opportunity for the next generation of stars coming through at the club to lean on Gibson and pick his brain to help develop their own games. “I want to be a sounding board with my experience and giving little tips here and there,” he added. “It might be more so the guys in their teens and early-20’s that I’m helping more and I want to be there for them throughout the summer.”