Aussie pair bowled over by Comber club
My conversation with North Down's two new Australians got off to bad start. Just three weeks after arriving in Northern Ireland, Nick Larkin was involved in a horror collision with a team-mate as they went for a catch in the outfield, forcing a 36-hour stay in the Ulster Hospital with severe concussion.
But it is the other new arrival from Down Under who currently has the shiner under his right eye. Tim Ley was hit by the ball in fielding practice last Thursday and it bounced up and hit him in the face. Cue the understandable confusion.
"Contrary to the way we look, Nico was the one involved in the collision," explained Ley.
"Maybe we're just a couple of accident-prone Aussies. The ball came off my thumb, hit me on top of the eye and for a while it looked as if I'd a golf ball on top of my head. It's all drained round my eye."
But then these two players seem to do everything together. They met at Sydney University where they studied together and played cricket together for four years and now, here they are, in Comber as a package and still to experience defeat after a seven-game winning run at the start of the season.
Ley (25) is the professional, an opening bowler who described his first man-of-the-match award in the Challenge Cup victory over Lisburn on Saturday as "humbling" and Larkin, two years his junior, is the Irish passport holder who can, therefore, play in the same NCU team.
"My grandfather is from Dublin, mum lived there for five or six years before moving to New South Wales," says Larkin, who has actually played at a higher level than the new professional.
"I played two games for the NSW 2nd XI and also made it into the extended state squad. It's still my ambition to get a contract with the state side."
Larkin has had little opportunity to impress his new team-mates at North Down. His highest score, so far is 22, but he has made 162 in Australia and is no stranger to rubbing shoulders with the big names back home.
"I've played with Stuart Clark, Stuart McGill and Ed Cowan with Sydney University, and Phil Jacques was my captain in the New South Wales 2nd XI. It's really exciting to play with and against the Test players."
Ley has Jacques as one of his big-name victims and he can also add Usman Khawaja, Nathan Hauritz Moses Henriques and Steve Smith to his prize list of scalps.
Unlike Larkin – one of the few differences between the pair – this is Ley's second visit to the UK.
"I was pro in the Staffordshire League six years ago. The team had just been promoted and I finished as the leading wicket-taker," said Ley. That season, he also became one of the very few bowlers who can say they took five wickets in five balls.
He added: "The opposition needed 30 to win, with six wickets left. I took two wickets with the last two balls of my over. The guy at the other end took a wicket in the next over, and I then took three wickets in three balls at the beginning of the next."
Because of North Down's dominance this year, Ley has yet to get much of a chance with the bat, but he knows that is a key area if he is to move up to the next level.
"I hope to improve my batting a lot when I'm here. Back home, I bat at eight or nine, averaging around 20. But to improve I need to be a middle order bat and score runs to get into higher teams. Mind you, the way North Down are playing it doesn't look like I will be batting any time soon."
First impressions though from both players are positive.
"I'm enjoying the club, some great characters. I was warned about understanding the Northern Ireland accent but everyone has been very friendly and even people in the shops in Comber already know our names and are making us feel at home," said Ley.
Larkin agrees: "It's a really friendly club and I'm having a great time. The standard is better than I expected but the weather is horrific."
At least they are in the right continent to take in the Ashes this summer "if we get a break" but before that expect to see them at Stormont for the Ireland-Australia A four-day game next month when the tourists are assured of at least two fans. And they intend to stay safely outside the playing area.