It's becoming something of a well worn path between Irish cricket and the English county scene these days as the wealth of talent on these shores comes under the microscope across the pond. Those making a success of the opportunity they have been presented with are too numerous to mention but the North West is certainly getting its share with Graeme McCarter the latest to hit the headlines after a storming start with Gloucester. Others are surely certain to get their chance over the coming seasons but for one in particular the dream is already very much alive.
When Stuart Thompson stepped out for Limavady at home to Donemana on Saturday it was the all-rounder's first appearance since being presented with the platform to let the people at Somerset see what he had to offer. The Roesiders may have suffered a heavy defeat at the hands of the league leaders but there was no denying the enthusiasm which which the 20-year old talked about his County trial in the wake of the weekend game. “I had been working with Chris Taylor at the European Men's Academy in India in March and after that Chris was appointed fielding coach at Somerset for pre-season and the T20 campaign. Completely out of the blue I got a call from Chris asking me to play for the County second XI against Surrey at the start of this month and obviously I was delighted to accept”.
Stuart is currently studying Geography in Newcastle so I asked him about the logistics of travelling the length of the country for trials. “I was back home when I got the initial call therefore I just flew to London instead of Newcastle on the return journey. I batted twice in that trial game scoring 20-odd in the first innings and 30 in the second so I did OK”
And what sort of feedback did he receive after the match and did he feel that he had a chance of earning himself a contact? “It's too early to say at this stage however I must have done enough for them to want another look. Shortly after that game Joss Butler withdrew from the senior squad for a 4-day game and a pro-40 contest at Durham and I was brought in as 12th man. That was a wonderful experience for me to be in the dressing room for a senior County match and of course it was fantastic that George Dockrell was there as well. In many ways getting the taste for that type of career will be what spurs me on to improve my game but I'm confident in my own ability and will keep working towards that goal”.
As for what happens next, Thompson was happy to play the waiting game. “There will probably be a few follow-up opportunities to impress the coaches at Somerset as we head into the summer. Obviously I have commitments with Ireland “A” as well and the International aspirations are very important to me. I am fortunate enough to be working with several top coaches and while I know time is on my side I want to progress to the full International set up. I have just completed my first year at college but the ultimate goal is to play professional cricket”.
For now though the Limavady man seems happy to be back in Andrew Riddles' side and playing regularly. “Obviously we have got off to a very disappointing start domestically but the season is young. We have a strong panel of players and I have no doubt that the team will be in the thick of things when the league and cup reaches the business end”. One person missing from the Hunter Grounds' changing room this season is dad Nigel and I asked Stuart if he felt that the move back to Eglinton would be good for the boss. “It's a good move for Eglinton that's for sure. He's a villager at heart and I'm not surprised that he has decided to go back. His experience will be vital as they prepare to force their way back to the top flight and they've put together a decent side so it will be an interesting season. For my own part though I have to focus on my game and see where that takes us. I don't intend counting any chickens but hopefully I'll get my chance to join the other Irish players plying their trade on the County circuit at some stage”.
I don't doubt that the North West cricket community would echo those sentiments and wish Stuart Thompson the very best of luck as he aims to forge his career at the top level.
Finally this week Strabane are bidding farewell to Faisal Iqbal over the coming days although when I chatted to him during their win over Brigade on Sunday the Pakistani was insistent that he would be back early in July. “I have to travel to London first and then on to Lahore at the weekend as I have fitness sessions before the 34-man squad flies to Sri Lanka on 28 May. I won't be involved in the T20's or ODI's but am in the squad for the Test series which runs from mid-June to around 11 July. The people at Strabane have been very good to me since I arrived here and I would like to come back to help the club as soon as the Test series ends”.
Iqbal last played for Pakistan in January 2010 when he was part of the Test team that contested the winter series in Australia scoring 48 in the first innings of the first Test. “It was a wonderful experience to play in front of nearly 100,000 people at the MCG and I came into the series in good form having made 68 against New Zealand in the Test before that. You don't get many chances at that level and I was dropped towards the end of the series after a few low scores however I'm really relishing the chance to get my place back. I feel I can play at the very top level for another 8 or 9 years but there are no International series for some time after this so it is important to do well and stay in the selectors' thoughts”.
“I have played cricket around the world but this is my first experience of Ireland and it has been fantastic in the short time I've been here. I want to come back in July and I'd be happy to return over the next few seasons if Strabane wanted to offer me a contract”.
From what we've seen in the first few weeks I'd hazard a guess that the feeling is mutual.