Pieter Malan can spearhead North Down's charge back to summit
After a decade of almost unbroken success, North Down find themselves in transition. The exodus of no fewer than five players over the winter has left the winners of 13 NCU league and cup trophies in the Noughties down to the bare bones.
The experienced Martin Moreland is the new captain, after the surprise departure of former international Ryan Haire, and he has been tasked with bringing the glory days back to Comber.
One player, however, could make a significant difference this summer. If Pieter Malan can match his career statistics, then North Down have found themselves a very special player indeed.
The 25-year old South African has already given a hint of his talent with scores of 50 (out of 96) in a Twenty20 Cup match against Carrickfergus and, last Saturday, 58 not out against Lisburn in the first round of the Challenge Cup.
"We were only chasing 85 so I thought I'd get it over as quickly as possible," was his modest summing up of his innings. It seems inevitable that there is plenty more to come.
Malan is well used to playing in the UK. For the past four seasons he was professional in the Manchester area, playing for Barrow in the Northern Premier League and then he spent two years at Ramsbottom in the strong Lancashire League where he scored 2,060 runs; he was the league's leading scorer in 2013.
"Last year was tricky," he admits, after moving to Barrow in the Northern Premier League, but it all stands him in good stead to make an instant impact in Northern Ireland and there are plenty of familiar faces around him.
There are no fewer than eight South African overseas players in the NCU and North West and he has played against most of them and with Rassie van der Dussen, the CIYMS professional.
"I know Rassie very well. We're very good friends and played together for four or five years with Northerns," he said.
"(Waringstown pro) Ruhan Pretorius and my brother played together from school level so I know him very well and Michael Loubser (who he will face this Saturday when North Down face Bready in the Ulster Cup) plays for Boland, the neighbouring province to Western Province in Cape Town and he is good friends with some of my team-mates."
Malan was snapped up by WP two years ago, after scoring 191 - one of his 15 first class centuries in just 94 matches - against them.
His innings lasted almost eight hours and he faced exactly 400 balls, but he actually prefers to play limited overs cricket.
"Both have their pros and cons, but I enjoy the positive nature of the one-day game. I try to be positive. The whole objective of batting is to score runs," he said.
And he has backed up his words with action, scoring eight List A centuries with a best of 169 not out, when he opened the batting with Van der Dussen, and just for good measure hit 140 not out in a T20 game in 69 balls (16 fours and seven sixes) just last December.
But ask him who he enjoyed watching batting and used as his idols, and he has a surprising answer.
"Growing up, I enjoyed watching Australia, Steve Waugh's mentality and Ricky Ponting's style but AB (de Villiers, the current South Africa ODI captain and world No 1) is on a level of his own at the minute. That's something to aspire to but he's special," added Malan.
Malan has already been told that De Villiers was professional at Carrickfergus, back in 2004, and he signed off with two double centuries. So, no pressure, then.
Of his medium fast bowling, Malan describes it as "more of a supporting act. I hold up an end and create a bit of pressure for the other bowlers".
But it is not to be under-estimated. At the 2008 Under-19 World Cup he dismissed the India captain, one Virat Kolhi, and had figures of 9-1-23-1 in the final and he is sure to be a more than useful change bowler for North Down.
As for the season ahead, he is well aware that CIYMS, Waringstown and defending league champions Instonians will be the teams to beat.
"North Down are in a bit of a rebuilding phase so it's a good challenge and going in as underdogs against any of those three teams puts no pressure on us and we can go out and enjoy ourselves and if we cause an upset, then happy days," he concluded.
And Malan could be the player to bring the happy days back to North Down.