The recruitment policy of any club is going to play a massive part in the future of local cricket in the NCU. Despite official numbers, participation is dwindling and clubs face an ongoing battle to keep people interested in playing the game. While Bangor is fortunate to have a rich cricketing heritage, we are no exception and we must look to the wider community to secure the future of our club. New blood can also have a rejuvenating effect, bring an enthusiasm to cricket that has long since disappeared and remind our more experienced players of the joy of playing the game in the first place. Josh Bates is a cricket fanatic, as he admits unashamedly:
“I just love cricket. It was weird because I hated it until I was about nine years old but once I started training and playing with my brothers in the garden I was hooked. My Grandad and my Dad would take me to Edgbaston and I would watch Jonathan Trott, Trevor Penney, Ian Bell and my favourite Nick Knight. All conversations in our house would be about cricket. Even living away from home now, I would say 80% of my conversations with my Dad are about cricket. He follows everything the club is doing and loves to get the match reports each week”
The level of Josh’s enthusiasm for the game is infectious. It is strange to hear a Bangor player talk with this level of excitement about cricket, so much so that you nearly have to check yourself to see whether he is being serious. Many of the previous interviewees have pointed to Josh’s fanaticism as having a massive effect on the changing room this season, bringing the game back into focus and lifting the team. There was no danger of Josh drifting away from the game when he moved to Northern Ireland in 2017 but playing for Bangor was by no means a certainty.
“I met my girlfriend, Emily, at Liverpool University and we moved to Northern Ireland when we finished. We live in Ards, so I started doing some research on the best place to play. I looked at the league tables and even had a walk round Londonderry Park and realised pretty quickly that I couldn’t play for Ards. From there I settled on Bangor, got in touch with Andy Nixon and he really sold the club to me. I remember turning up at nets, about this time last year, expecting to meet this cricketing giant when I was greeted with this small, ginger kid – but what a cricketer he is and even nicer in person. There were other members of the club there, I remember Ian Fletcher being extremely welcoming to me as I didn’t know anyone at all. I felt at home pretty much immediately and from there my decision was made.” At that first nets practise, Josh is quick to point out just how welcome he was made to feel and it is vital that every new member is made to feel the same.
It soon became apparent that, in Josh, not only had we gained a cricketing fanatic but a very good cricketer as well. Slightly faster than anything else in our attack, Josh has turned in some excellent performances with the ball this season. A fantastic spell against Lisburn saw his ten overs go for 25 but it was perhaps his performance two weeks later against Donacloney that sticks in the mind. Having lost two games in the one weekend Bangor were in full control against the Armagh outfit at Uprichard, until an eighth wicket partnership saw them need only five from the final over. Josh came onto bowl, taking a wicket and affecting a run out to halt a mini-slide and set the team back on track for the second half of the season. “I love bowling at the death in pressure situations. I’m sure you saw the celebrations and they lasted long into the night on that one.”
It is perhaps surprising that Josh has only taken seven wickets for the club so far. A large part of this has been down to his lack of availability due to work commitments, a factor that considering his level of enthusiasm he has struggled with throughout 2018. “It’s been tough. You think you’re getting into a rhythm and then you have to miss a week and it sets you back.” The pain of this lack of availability was never more evident when Bangor were due to play against arch-rivals Holywood at the end of August and Josh had won a reward day with work and would therefore miss the match. So while Bangor were being beaten narrowly by Holywood, Josh was playing Zorb Football as a reward for winning a performance competition in work. How exactly playing Zorb Football could ever be considered as a reward for winning anything is something the mind of only a maniac could work out and Josh took some good natured banter about it. “It was unfortunate timing but I couldn’t get out of it. For weeks after the event I was getting stick about it but it was all good. It made me feel an even bigger part of the squad.” Thankfully, Josh has broken free from the shackles of his erstwhile employer and, following a stint travelling, his availability should improve for 2019.
Another moment of high drama befell the young star when Josh got the opportunity to open the batting against Lisburn. “I used to open the batting and I had been chomping at the bit all season to get an opportunity.” In my time at Bangor, I have been fortunate to watch great batsmen play some fantastic innings. The mind turns to Jonny Hewitt, Mark Hutchinson, Chris Cargo, or Chris Harte; it turns to the fantastic professionals we have had such as Regan West, Yassas Tillakaratne or latterly Taimur Khan. None of the above will come close to the first ball of the Bangor Innings against Lisburn on September 1st 2018. Signalled a no ball (and therefore a free hit), the ball squirted away behind square on the leg side, all present at Uprichard began to find themselves a suitable position to watch Chris Burns attempt to hit the next ball to Groomsport, safe in the knowledge he couldn’t be dismissed. Well, all present bar one. In a flash, Josh is up beside Chris who is doing a bit of gardening and probably muttering to himself ‘Dingers, dingers, dingers’, “I was just so excited to be out there. I thought there was a run there and there probably was. In hindsight, I would probably leave it to Burnsey to hit but my exuberance took over.” When quizzed about the same incident Chris said “I looked up and thought to myself what is Josh doing here?” Lisburn easily made the run out meaning that the score was 1-1 of zero balls. A first in any form of cricket I can remember.
Redemption with the bat was not long in coming for Josh as the following week against Lurgan he staked a genuine claim to be an all-rounder of the future. The bizarre incident against Lisburn meant that he had been relegated to nine in the order. Bangor were floundering needing 80 with only two wickets remaining. Showing great mental fortitude he formed a partnership with Ross Miller, scoring 46 not out with gracious ease and lusty hitting, relegating Lurgan in the process. “It is an amazing feeling that. We just kept picking up the singles and batted sensibly. We identified their spinner as the best bowler and we saw him off. As time went on their heads began to drop. I was even caught on the boundary but the fielder carried it over for six. Then to hit a six to win it, it was just immense. It’s nice to know you have contributed.” Batting higher up the order is a definite ambition for Josh in 2019. “I love building partnerships. I suppose it’s the competitive aspect of it that drives me on. I’ve always been that way, ever since playing with my brothers in the garden.”
You can’t help but smile when listening to the joy with which Josh discusses these situations. He is an asset to our cricket club but an asset we will be without for the first two months of next summer. Josh is about set off on a tour of South East Asia, Australia and New Zealand. He discusses playfully the chance of playing cricket out there, “If I could get a game out there, I definitely would. Wouldn’t that be class? Realistically, I’ll probably get to a few stadium tours but I’ll be counting down the weeks until I get back to play.” I look on in disbelieve as Josh reaches for his phone and brings up a screenshot of the fixtures for 2019 and starts planning his return. “I’m back on 5th June, so that match there, Cregagh at home on 8th will be my first game back and then Holywood a couple of weeks later, won’t that be amazing?” When discussing what Bangor can achieve this year, Josh believes that the sky is the limit, “We should definitely be challenging for that league. We were close last year and we will only get better as a team this season coming. I’m just a bit worried about reducing the overs to 40. For a bowler to be losing two overs a match is massive. That’s an opportunity for two to three extra wickets a match. For me, the more cricket we can play the better. What can I say? I’m a total cricket badger.”
The interview draws to a close with Josh talking excitedly about the technological advances we will be trying to introduce in 2019. “Wherever I am in the world, I’ll be following the updates. It’ll be perfect preparation for my return in June.” Just spending time with Josh, you realise just how fortunate we are to have someone who is so committed to the game, who plays for the love of it and wants to the best thing for the club. If everyone who played the game carried the same passion for cricket as Josh does then there would be no participation crisis in local cricket at all. We wish you safe travels on what sounds like the trip of a lifetime, but hurry back.
Josh Bates was talking to Paddy Dixon