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Cricket Ireland's Stormont visit is the match of day

By Ian Callender

Nigel Jones will start his 10th season in the Ulster Bank Premier League as he has done for most of the previous nine - with a game at Stormont. The difference this year is that he is playing for the visitors.

The Civil Service North captain for the last eight years stunned followers of the Northern Cricket Union by accepting an offer from CIYMS to make the short trip to Belmont and, as fate decreed, CSN are at home to CI in the first game of the new season.

Saturday's game of the day, however, will not be all about Jones.

There will be just as much interest in James Cameron-Dow and Johnny Thompson who have left North Down and Brigade respectively at the top of their form to join Jones in a CIYMS side which, with the even more significant help of returning professional Rassie van der Dussen, are favourites to lift the top prize in NCU cricket.

CSN, however, will again be no-one's push-overs. Andrew Cowden has taken over the captaincy and they have a new professional in Mansoor Amjad who played one ODI and a T20 international as a 21-year-old for Pakistan back in 2008.

Winners of both NCU cup competitions last season, they will be determined to prove the loss of one player will not prevent them building on last year's third place.

Instonians start their defence at Lisburn, two teams expected to be at opposite ends of the table.

While the champions have an unchanged squad - and that includes Eugene Moleon who appears committed to playing more matches than he did last season after announcing his retirement at the end of 2013 - Lisburn have lost their best batsman in Craig Ervine, who has given up his Ireland aspirations by playing for Zimbabwe during the winter and he has not been replaced.

Lisburn's biggest games of the season could be at the start of May and August when they play Ballymena.

The Eaton Park side only beat relegated Muckamore by one run and lost the other game last season and it will be David Simpson's side who they will have in their sights this term.

Without David and Robert Kennedy, who have both retired, Ballymena would also appear to have a lesser professional with Pakistani Azeem Ghuman replacing IPL player Yogash Takawale.

First up for Ballymena is North Down whose squad has suffered the biggest upheaval with Nick Larkin not returning and Johnny Terrett, James Cameron-Dow and Ryan Haire all moving on, although the arrival of South African Pieter Malan as professional in place of PJ Muir should be a major asset.

He averages 48 in one-day cricket and has scored eight centuries with a top score of 169 not out.

Still, under new captain Martin Moreland it looks as if it will be a consolidation season at Comber.

Completing the opening day fixture list is the intriguing game between newly promoted Carrickfergus and now perennial bridesmaids Waringstown.

For once, the previous season's Section One winners are not favourites to go straight back down and with the same team that won the Quadruple, at their own level last season, plus the return of former professional Indrajeet Kamtekar and the addition of Ashwin Shetty from Dundrum, confidence is high at Middle Road that they will not be in a relegation scrap during the campaign.

Waringstown, though, promise a supreme first test with last year's runners-up in the Premier League, Ulster Cup and Challenge Cup as strong as ever.

Their only significant change in personnel sees Ruhan Pretorius replacing his fellow South African Shaheen Khan as their overseas player.

Ulster Bank Premier League: Carrickfergus v Waringstown, Civil Service North v CIYMS, Lisburn v Instonians, North Down v Ballymena

Section One: Academy v Cliftonville, Bangor v Templepatrick, Downpatrick v Donacloney, Lurgan v Woodvale, Muckamore v Derriaghy

Section Two: Armagh v Victoria, Dundrum v Drumaness, Holywood v Larne, Saintfield v Laurelvale

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