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North Down captain: Swift start more important than ever as local cricket season finally begins



Sweet return: CSNI’s Adam Simmonite bowls during last night’s friendly against Carrick

Sweet return: CSNI’s Adam Simmonite bowls during last night’s friendly against Carrick

Alistair Shields aims to make an impact for North Down this season

Alistair Shields aims to make an impact for North Down this season

Sweet return: CSNI’s Adam Simmonite bowls during last night’s friendly against Carrick

It's been 301 days since Alistair Shields picked up a bat in earnest but, finally, it is just one more sleep before he can do it again.

Never before has the North Down skipper waited longer between innings but then never before has there been 10 months between the end of one season and the start of the next.

And this much abbreviated season promises to be completely different - not just on the field where 20-over games will be the new norm, but off it too.

"Plenty of hoops have been jumped through over the past weeks in terms of setting up the ground and sessions for teams throughout the club, so there has been a lot of hard work behind the scenes," said Shields.

"It's just little logistical things like who can be there to open up, who is in charge and who is managing the protocols.

"It'll be well worth the work when we get on the field and hopefully the weather plays ball so we can have a decent season."

With no Premier League or Challenge Cup to play for this season, it will be the T20 specialists who are set to dominate and Shields has plenty of leadership experience.

He was T20 skipper when Marty Moreland was North Down's 50-over captain and, having taken over last year in all formats, he will expect the Comber side to challenge for the two trophies available - the Robinson Services League Cup, which starts the season tomorrow, the first of seven rounds of games when the Premier League teams play each other once before the top four contest semi-finals, and the T20 Cup, which is a straight knockout tournament.

"It's going to be a short, sharp and intense season and you have to get on a run and kick off well or else you will be behind," added Shields. "We have done well in T20 over the last few years and although not managing to get our hands on any silverware (since 2013) it would be nice to go a step further."

Their first League Cup game is at home to Carrickfergus but while they have new signings Aditya Adey and Andrew Haire on board, it will be at least three weeks before their supporters can see new signing Paul Stirling in action and his Ireland team-mate Craig Young will also miss North Down's first four games; the Ireland squad leave for England tomorrow to prepare for their three-match one-day international series in the bio-secure Ageas Bowl, Southampton.

Carrick last night announced the signing of Scotland international opening batsman George Munsey, who has a strike rate of 154 and a top score of 127 not out in T20 internationals, made against Netherlands in Malahide last September.

CIYMS swept all before them last year and although without an overseas professional, and Mark Adair for the first three League Cup games, they will again be the team to beat. The first to try are Civil Service North who could be the surprise package with Stuart Thompson having joined from Eglinton and available having failed to make the Ireland squad.

Shane Getkate is the other disappointed contracted international.

Like Thompson, the majority of Getkate's Ireland appearances have been in the shortest format so Instonians and Andrew White seem certain to benefit, starting today with an away game at Waringstown.

Lee Nelson has taken over the captaincy at The Lawn and with Morgan Topping and Aaron Wright returning to their home club from CSN plus the possible availability of Jack Carson, home from Sussex, there should be plenty of selection problems as Waringstown hope to maintain their impressive T20 record - they have been in the last five finals, winning three.

The other opening-day game is at Wallace Park where Lisburn, who must wait for Boyd Rankin to debut, host newly-promoted Woodvale, with the visitors assured of successive top flight seasons as there is no promotion or relegation this year - and, for now, no spectators.

Tomorrow's fixtures - Robinson Services League Cup (2pm): CIYMS v Civil Service North (12pm), Lisburn v Woodvale, North Down v Carrickfergus, Waringstown v Instonians.

RS Trophy: Armagh v Derriaghy, Ballymena v Saintfield, Cregagh v Cliftonville Academy, Donaghcloney Mill v Downpatrick (12pm), Muckamore v Templepatrick (12pm).

RS Bowl: Cooke Collegians v Victoria (1pm), Lurgan v Laurelvale (12pm), Donaghadee v Ards (12pm), Holywood v Bangor (12.30pm), BISC v Belfast Superkings, Dundrum v Dunmurry. Sunday: Armagh v Cliftonville Academy, Templepatrick v Muckamore (12pm).

•Carrickfergus and Civil Service North warmed up for the new season with a friendly match at Middle Road last night.

New signing Ross Adair hit a 50 off 35 balls for CSN

Belfast Telegraph