Albert van der Merwe
Albert van der Merwe, tall and dark haired, is a very good off break bowler, and an aggressive upper order batsman.
He is also a top rank cricket coach who, to the disappointment but complete understanding of Irish cricketers, administrators and spectators, has decided that this is the area of the game on which he must now concentrate, thus forcing his retirement from the international scene.
One of three cricket playing brothers, he developed his game on the picturesque Wellington ground, nestling underneath the Drakensberg Mountains. He represented Boland at age group level and also played with success for his University.
His career in Irish cricket began in 2005 when he signed for Derriaghy. He had been preceded to the NCU area by his brother Martin who played for Dunmurry in 2004 and 2005 before joining Albert at Derriaghy in 2006. Here the following season they were joined by brother Hennie, all three playing for the Club in the 2007 T20 Final.
Martin, incidentally, scored the first century in the T20 competition, for Dunmurry in 2005, while Hennie with 27 wickets at 20.07 for Lisburn in 2010 was chosen as one of the NCU Team of the Year.
Albert played three seasons at Queensway, of which the first was probably the best. Often opening the batting, he scored 465 runs in the League with a highest score of 76 against Bangor at Upritchard Park at an average of 29.06. Adjusting to conditions somewhat different to those at Wellington, he also took 17 wickets at 30.24. His innings against Bangor helped bring a 79 runs victory. The visitors totalled 200 with fellow South African Freddie van den Burgh , who scored over 1000 runs in the season, weighing in with 64, Bangor replied with 121, owing much to a stalwart 37 from Regan West.
Albert's his best bowling figures of 3-19 came against Instonians at Shaw's Bridge, in a match won by 30 runs, de Burgh having hit a brilliant 140* to set a challenging task. However such efforts in the end proved to be in vain as Derriaghy were deprived of wins and points for fielding an ineligible player and relegated.
Albert had also batted well in an Ulster Cup defeat at the hands of Brigade. Chasing a score of 196-9, Albert opened the batting and reached a good looking 67, but saw his side go down by 15 runs. The following season, which saw promotion in the League gained once more, he shone in the club's Challenge Cup run.
In the first round he took 3-11 against Cooke Collegians and, with brother Martin weighing in with an undefeated 51, Derriaghy, chasing a total of 142, romped home by 8 wickets. In a shock second round match - rain affected, - match he helped the Queensway side defeat Instonians by 7 wickets. Having bowled his 10 overs to take 2-9, he then made 65*, putting on 95 for the 4th wicket as he and Craig Lewis (53) chased down an "Old Boys" score of 162. Albert was Man of the Match.
Defeat followed in the Quarter Final at the hands of Lisburn, who won by 62 runs despite good all round work by the van der Merwe brothers. In the Lisburn innings, Martin took 2-29 and Albert 2-35. Then as Derriaghy perused a score of 209-8 Albert made 50 and Martin 43, but they lacked support from their team-mates.
His best performance in 2007 was to take 4-22 against Carrickfergus in a match which featured six South Africans. Albert was joined in the Derriaghy side by his two brothers and Peter van Niekerk while Carrick fielded Darius and Gideon van Rensburg. All contributed to a closely fought encounter which ended in a one wicket victory for Derriaghy.
Albert had been coaching at Wallace High School, Lisburn and was thus happy to take on the role of Youth Cricket Development Officer at The Hills for the 2008 season, the fiercely competitive world of Fingal cricket also appealing to one of his background. He found the Development Officer role challenging but rewarding including as it did introducing cricket to children whose knowledge of the game was scanty to say the least.
The Hills won the Leinster Senior League that season for the first time since 1989. Albert was certainly a key figure in this even though one commentator, not unknown for outspoken and controversial statements declared, "Hugh Tayfield he is not."
From the point of view of the following season, that was probably just as well. Granted that Albert could not bowl like Tayfield, but then few in world cricket in the 1950s could. However nor could "Toey" bat like Albert, as he experienced a fine all round season in 2009, carrying off the Samuels Cup for the best all-rounder in Leinster cricket.
He scored 570 runs at 40.72 and captured 26 wickets at 20.45. His highest score was a remarkable 123* from 125 balls in the League against Leinster at Milverton. He and Jeremy Bray (102) put on 193 for the first wicket but were interrupted by a long rain break. Albert had, in his own words, "scratched around for 45 off 98 balls" at this stage. When play resumed only 8 overs were left and Albert, hitting the first ball for 6 went for the bowling. The hosts went on to win by 5 runs on the D/L method.
Two fine all round performances, one at either end of the season, showed his right to the Samuels Cup, the latter one enabling him to pip Naseer Shoukat at the post for the award. In an early season DGM 45 over match against Merrion he made a valuable 49* at 5 to see his side to a total of 170 then, with paceman Max Sorenson taking the other wickets, bowled with Tayfeld like hostility and accuracy to return figures of 9.3 - 5 - 7 - 5 to record a notable victory.
In the season's final match, a "local derby" with North County, he made 58 and then took 5-23, thus not only ensuring victory for his side but also the Samuels Cup for himself. It had been a remarkable season, during which he had also remodelled his bowling action.
The last three seasons, one with The Hills and two with YMCA have not consistently produced such returns, the main reason being, of course, that Albert achieved his ambition, declared in a 2009 interview, of playing for Ireland. He also suffered from injury during the 2011 season. However the prospect of playing the full programme of matches next (2013) season, with the added spur of captaincy, means that there can be little doubt that normal service will be resumed.
A taste of what may be expected may be seen by his two best performances so far for the Claremont Road side. In April 2011 they entertained Instonians in a pre-season friendly. Albert, batting at 4, made an attractive 73 with 8 fours and 1 six, putting on 163 in 25 overs with Alan Lewis, who scored a brilliant hundred. Then in the League at the end of the season, he played a leading part in an 18 runs defeat of Phoenix again at Claremont Road. With a sound 35, he was second top scorer in a total of 195. He then took 4-26, including the vital wicket of Jeremy Bray to ensure victory.
Before examining Albert's Irish career we may note that he also played for the Southern XI against the North in both the inter-regional matches in 2012, taking three wickets in the first match thus playing a big part in a 98 runs win. However in the second, convincingly won by the North against a weakened Southern side, his bowling came in for some rough treatment.
Between June 2010, when he made his debut against Sussex 2nd XI and September 2011 against MCC in College Park, Albert played 15 times for Ireland A or for Ireland in non-cap matches. Runs proved hard to come by, though he never batted above 8 in the order, his highest score being 19 achieved in his first match.
However with the ball, he took 35 wickets at 14.55, twice taking 4 in an innings. Thus, leading the side against Denmark at Grainville in the European Division 1, he took 4-44 as Denmark, chasing a revised target of 323 after rain had intervened, were dismissed for 184 with Shane Getkate and Gary Kidd also among the wickets.
Captaining the side again against an MCC side which included three former Irish players in College Park at the end of the 2011 season, he had 2-3 in the first innings while his "spin twin" George Dockrell had 5-28. Albert then had 4-44 in the second innings, George proving "marginally more expensive" in this second innings took 5-29 as MCC crashed to a heavy defeat.
Albert also gained 21 full Irish caps, between his debut v West Indies at Stormont in late June 2010 and his finale on the same ground against South Africa A last (2012) so called summer. Again runs proved difficult to obtain, although he usually occupied one of the last 3 places in the order. His highest score of 20, however, came at No 4 against South Africa A at Oak Hill on the only day, the last, that the weather allowed play in a 3 day game. He batted for longer than any of his team-mates in the first innings, apart from James Shannon, facing 70 balls in a 101 minute stay as the left arm pace of Wayne Parnell forced Ireland to follow on. The match was saved without second innings alarms.
Albert saved his best performances for bowling in Intercontinental Cup Matches. He had 6 wickets in the match against the Netherlands at Rathmines in August 2010, with 3-25 in the first innings and 3-15 in the second. These figures helped Ireland to an innings victory as did centuries from John Mooney and Andrew White and the bowling of Dockrell, Alan Eastwood and Trent Johnston.
Against Canada the following year, Albert had 5-20 in the first innings as Canada replied to Ireland's 462 with a score of 194. Following on they did rather better but Albert and Dockrell, with 3 wickets apiece, ensured an innings victory.
His best match for Ireland came against Kenya on a turning wicket at Mombasa the following (2012) February, a match which - together with the accompanying ODIs - many thought should not have been played for security reasons. Ireland were bowled out for 75, before Albert with 5-41 and Dockrell 5-37 responded by dismissing the hosts for 105. A fighting 52 from Ed Joyce then left Kenya needing 118 to win, Ireland's victory seemed assured when Albert and George reduced them to 36-8 but rare wicket keeping errors by Gary Wilson and some courageous batting saw Kenya eventually total 108 , thanks largely to a 9th wicket stand of 58 before victory was sealed. Albert finished with figures of 18.2-7-26-7, in one of Ireland's most hard fought victories.
His figures of 12-67 were the best match analysis by an Irish bowler since Dermot Monteith's 12-95 against Scotland in 1973. Albert's best ODI performance came against Canada at Toronto in 2010, when he took 5-49 in 10 overs to dismiss the hosts for 233 as they chased an Irish score of 325-8. Such a bowling performance, which made him the third Irish bowler, following Trent Johnston and Alex Cusack to take five in an ODI, would normally have been a headline grabber. It was, however, dwarfed by Paul Stirling's superb 177.
As mentioned at the beginning of this short biographical notice, Albert van der Merwe has decided to retire from the international game, leaving a gap in the Irish attack for the Intercontinental Cup matches.
However his reasons are selfless and fully appreciated. The growth of his coaching responsibilities through the expanding Cricket Academy and the ever increasing professionalism of Ireland's programme means that he is no longer able to undertake both commitments properly.
He takes with him the good wishes of everybody in Irish cricket while it is good to know that his skills may still be seen at Claremont Road and elsewhere on the Leinster circuit.