Throughout this series of interviews, we have covered the many challenges that are facing the game of cricket in Ulster today. While there are definite solutions to be found for some of these challenges, there are those that the game just has to accept. Top of that list would be those who choose to make their life outside of Northern Ireland, due to the wealth of opportunity that lies elsewhere. Indeed, the mouth waters at the thought of a Bangor team that could contain the names of Scott Cooper, Chris Kane, Chris Cargo, Peter Irwin and Danny Hamilton (a few names that leap to mind immediately) had they not made their life elsewhere. Finishing his final year at university, Ross Miller is more than likely to join this exclusive list.
“Much will depend upon whether I can get a job after graduation. My degree is in languages with a view of moving into the business world, possibly as an International Brand Ambassador for a large company. If I were to stay in Northern Ireland, there would be very little else I could do apart from teach and that isn’t something that has ever interested me. The only downside is the cricket and when you’re as big a fan of the game as I am, the thought of not playing is particularly depressing.”
Ross is softly spoken, but always insightful, and it is etched in his face just how depressing the thought of summers without cricket really is. Ross has already looked into playing cricket in Europe if he should make the move to the continent. “Fortunately, there has never been a better time to play cricket in Europe. The game and the infrastructure are much better than they have been the past. I don’t know what the standard would be like, but I will definitely be investigating further, wherever I end up.” It will be certainly be an interesting experience for the young spinner who has been a huge part of the Bangor set up over the last decade and a vital part of the success in 2018.
What sets Ross apart from many of the bowlers in Section One is his continual desire to improve. He credits his experience of playing in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne as being a key factor in becoming the bowler that he is now. “I think that season was the making of me as a bowler. I had always been tight for four or five balls an over and then I would throw down a four ball and the pressure I was trying to build would be lost. The standard in Newcastle was much higher and it helped me develop to a point where I was thinking much more clearly about what I was trying to achieve. The four ball was eradicated and now I feel much more confident about what I am trying to achieve. I need to be consistent for 60 balls and build pressure. That is my role within the team.” This has certainly been evidenced in Ross’ performances this season. Often bowling his ten overs straight through, he has rarely gone for more than 30, a goal that he himself has set out. “I’m fortunate to be around intelligent bowlers like Andy and Taimur because there is always something I can learn from them.”
During this conversation on bowling Ross talks in an excited fashion. His natural intelligence combined with the fact he is a self-confessed cricket obsessive make him a fascinating interviewee. Ross talks me through how he will bowl an over, what precautions he will take against batsmen looking to hit out and how he keeps track of the amount of runs that he has conceded. When asked about the change in mindset that saw the removal of negativity from the First XI, Ross goes further to say that there has been a complete overhaul in the way we mentally prepare. “For years when I played for a Bangor side, we always thought and talked about the opposition more than we did about ourselves. We were talking about what they were going to do, how certain players liked to play and while it is important to have an idea of what the opposition are going to do, we never thought about what we were going to do or what we were trying to achieve as a team. That was always a big frustration for me. I believe that is the biggest change this year. We worry about ourselves not the opposition.”
This inward focus has helped Bangor find an identity that puts them into an excellent place for 2019 and beyond. Ross also believes it has aided a sense of personal responsibility in each player and this marks a big difference from Bangor sides of the past. “I think a great team is one in which all players contribute. For years I played on Bangor sides and only a few players were actually involved in the game. I used to only bowl three or four overs a match and bat ten or eleven. When you do that, you don’t feel part of a team. On this side everyone knows their role and, to a man, they have stood up to be counted this season.” Ross has a special word for the skipper, Chris Burns, at this point, “Burnsey is such a positive captain. I’ve never played on a team where the captain has stood at the door of the changing room and high-fived every player as they come through the door. Obviously, the way he bats is so visually impressive, but it’s his positivity that drives the mind-set of the team. It’s infectious.”
Ross’ musings are so astute from someone so young. If the First XI he is playing on now is maturing into a side that has the potential to win trophies, it is a world away from the debut he made back in 2011, on a gruesome day in Ballymena. “It was an experience for me to say the least. I had expected to be batting 11 and, given the fact I was only 12 years old and had only played a handful of games for the 4ths and 5ths, I expected us to lose. I did not expect to be joining Ryan Murphy in the middle at 24 for 9 after only seven overs. I remember Murph rather hopefully stating to me ‘we are not going to be 24 all out here, we just can’t be.’ I faced the fastest ball I had ever faced, from a spinner, and we were indeed all out for 24. After they had knocked the runs off, I remember Dave McCusker going mad in the changing room stating, in no uncertain terms ‘that some members of this team want to have a good long look at themselves’. He apologised later to me, as I was only 12, but his point was made very clearly.”
Nearly a decade on from that fateful day, Ross believes the side have matured into a more cohesive unit. He discusses the finer points of what happens on field and what he has learnt from those around him. “Andy (Nixon) knows my bowling as well as well as anybody, possibly even myself. If I am unsure of anything, then I go to him. He also knows the players in the local game so well, their strengths and weaknesses, he can anticipate exactly what they will try to do when facing me. I try to pick my spot and hit it six times out of six. I know that if I do that and I get my field right then it doesn’t really matter what the intent of the batsman is. I know I can bowl to a plan, build pressure and force a mistake at my end or the other. It doesn’t matter as long as the team benefits.”
As a deep thinker on the game, I ask Ross what makes a great captain. “I believe the best captains have patience, creativity and an acute awareness of the situation. They need to be able to analyse and make judgement calls on what is happening around them. I’m not talking about changing the field every ball but they must be creative in the field. That is why it is often quite difficult to be a bowling captain because you have to concentrate on that aspect of your game, as opposed to standing back and watching what is happening. I’ve been fortunate to play with captains such as Mark English and Chris who both have led from the front. The sheer weight of runs these two are able to provide can bolster up the weakest of teams and that is also massively desirable if you are a captain.”
Our conversation turns to the future. Alongside Taimur and James Griffin, Ross was on hand at the summer scheme this year to view some of the talent coming through the youth section. “Obviously, Chris Pyper and Will Simpson have broken through to the Firsts this year and that is great to see. If they can keep developing and find consistency, they are going to be brilliant for Bangor in the future. The younger kids look to have some real quality about them as well – Seb Yeates, Ethan Kennedy, Andy White, the Escott and McMillan kids. The club is in really good hands.” Ross hesitates at this point before adding “the only area in which we are lacking is maybe a decent young spinner but, then again, I didn’t really bowl spin until I was 15 so there is plenty of time for that.” You get the sense that Ross is protecting his place should he ever decide to return to Northern Ireland.
An intriguing 90 minutes comes to an end and I offer to drive Ross home. He talks about a wide range of subjects from cricket to the amount of work he has to do in January for his degree. It is always a difficult time for a student in their last six months of university. Uncertainty abounds about everything. Will I get the right grades, will I get a job, where will the future take me. The one aspect that is certain is that if Ross is ever back in Northern Ireland, he would be welcomed in a Bangor shirt – a thought that he reciprocates as he leaves the car, “I may play for clubs in other countries but I would never play for anyone else in Northern Ireland. Bangor Cricket Club is the only cricket club for me.”
Ross Miller was talking to Paddy Dixon