Historically, recruitment is an area in which Bangor Cricket Club has been found lacking. Sustained by the never ending pool of talent to come from Bangor Grammar, we have been guilty of not looking further afield for the next generation of cricketing talent. Furthermore, in the past, we have been described as arrogant, aloof and suspicious of outsiders. While there are those within the club who will undoubtedly see these as virtues, it is vital that we make improvements in this area to safeguard the future of the club. Thankfully, 2017 recruit, James Patterson assures me that his integration to Bangor Cricket Club has been an enjoyable process.
“My first game for the club is actually a bit of a quiz question. I turned up to play for the 2nds on the last Saturday in April 2017 and the boys – Speersy, Fletch, Ross (Garrett) and well, everyone, they were all very welcoming. I scored 20 and took three wickets at Downpatrick, the place where I played my youth cricket. It was great to be back playing.”
The quiz question aspect to James’ introduction to BCC actually points to one of the main differences between the malaise of the 2017 and the success of the 2018 seasons. “Which Bangor Cricket Club player boasts a 100% record as a captain?” The answer is Evan ‘Marv’ Fraser. While James is keen to pay tribute to his teammates that day in gaining a famous victory, “Speersy bowled six overs for two runs, Fletch came in and bludgeoned the winning runs”, the only remarks he can find for his mercurial skipper is “I remember liking his glasses…” After this victory, Evan was seconded to the Firsts for the rest of the 2017 season due to availability being so poor. “He is very much the Sam Allardyce of Bangor Cricket Club.”
Given his pedigree, it is no surprise that James followed his erstwhile captain to the First XI within a couple of weeks. Son of an established Irish international, he played in the highly successful youth set up at Downpatrick of the early 2000s, winning the Graham Cup and Colts Cup. From there he moved to Belfast Harlequins / CSNI, where he played on the same side as Gary Wilson, experiencing highs and lows as a middle order batsman. “We were relegated in 2004 at Middle Road, Carrick in one of my lowest moments, only to be back there 12 months later in a playoff against Muckamore, winning promotion back to Section One, as it was then. For me that really sums up the highs and lows of playing cricket; the despair of that first year against the joy of the next.” University took James to England, where he played for Essex University and then at a high level in the Essex Leagues playing against seasoned professionals such as Tony Palladino and Damian Brandy.
As with so many bright young Ulster cricketers, it looked likely that the move to university would spell the end of his cricket career in the NCU. “I was settled in England, I had just got married to Amy but we were too far away from each of our families. She suggested that she wouldn’t have a problem moving to Northern Ireland and we moved back, to Bangor.” James moved back to CSNI but life by that stage had changed. “It was my wedding anniversary. I was playing for CSNI 2nds in Junior One at CI in a 50 over match. It was an early season match so it started at 1pm and there were still 15 overs to go at 1930. I didn’t want to be that guy but I had to say to Wayne Horwood, I have to go here. We were still living in Killyleagh, by the time I got back from East Belfast the steak dinner was ruined. Fortunately, I met Amy when she was playing cricket for Essex University so she understands how cricket expands to fill the available time.”
We’ve seen this repeatedly throughout this series, just how difficult it can be for those with young families to play senior cricket. While having an understanding wife may ease the situation somewhat, it is a completely different story when the children come along. “It means I can’t commit to a full season, I just can’t. It breaks my heart leaving Jacob on a Saturday, much more so than it does when I leave him to nursery during the week. While work is compulsory, cricket is optional and I don’t want to leave my son for a full day. It is a full day too, especially if you’re travelling.” This incident, combined with a lack of opportunities at CSNI led James to making enquiries about joining Bangor, “I got in touch with Barney and he was very welcoming. There was more to the decision than simply distance to travel. I feel strongly that you should play for the town you’re living in, support local cricket.” He talks with great joy how with birthday salutations on Facebook, then captain Andy Nixon, gave him the greatest gift known to man, his First XI debut. Not wanting to let anyone down, James has been upfront about his availability committing to roughly half a season and no double headers.
This has in no way prohibited James from being an invaluable member of the squad. The high standards he holds himself to, combined with his calm and affable demeanour, not to mention a wealth of experience, mean that James is vital to the success of the squad. Having transformed himself into a slow, right arm bowler, James has popped up with key wickets throughout the two seasons. Taking four wickets against Holywood is certainly a method of ingratiating yourself to the Bangor set up, but it is his dogged performances with the bat that stick out in the mind for me. Barring the brutality of Burns’ dingers, my favourite partnership of the year came when James and Adam (McCusker) batted with great attrition to grind out a win at Cregagh this season. “Nicky (McCollum) got us off to a great start and we were always ahead of the run rate. I batted with Adam a couple of times this season, and the way we were able to dig in that day, we knew what needed to be done and we stuck to the task”
A true student of the game, James is able to pinpoint the difference between the relegation dogfight of 2017 and the success of 2018. “For me it’s ownership, guys taking responsibility for their innings. Consciously or unconsciously, we have a much better understanding of our roles within the team. Our game management has been superb. We know when to attack and when to dig in. The top order, particularly Adam at five has solidified and added a backbone to the side and our availability has led to many bowling options.” These bowling options can at times lead to bowlers not getting through their overs, which can be a problem for James from a confidence perspective, especially when considering he is only playing half the games, “I’m very much a confidence bowler. For me, I can get the ball and it all feels great and I’m good to go. If I’m not feeling it, I’ll concentrate on length and maybe drop a deep cover out immediately until I’m happy.” At this point, James provides the best sound-byte of this interview, or perhaps any interview ever conducted, when he claims “there are definitely parallels with the Bangor CC attack and the England test team at the minute. For Miller, Patterson and Stewart read Ali, Rashid and Leach.”
He is effusive in his praise of his fellow teammates, citing no acrimony from anyone when they don’t complete their 10 over spell. “In many ways, our attack was an embarrassment of riches last season, Everyone at Bangor plays for each other and, having played on many teams elsewhere, that is a great attribute in a club.” We discuss the future and what he would like to see happen in local cricket, “I would love to see an end to 1pm starts. I understand why they happen, but in this day and age, with senior numbers dwindling we shouldn’t be beholding to schoolboys. I would also like to see more T20 cricket. I believe that the interest would be there for a mini-regional league, in the evenings with Holywood, Cregagh maybe in our section. Given how popular the format is within our club you have to imagine that there would be appetite for this.”
As for aspirations for 2019, James is quite clear about the need to build on the successes of 2018. “We should definitely be looking at the T20 Cup as a way of bringing silverware to Bangor. Undoubtedly, we have the side and this format best suits our aggressive style of play. I would say that this is an extremely achievable goal. As far as the league is concerned, another season in Section One is something to look forward to. It is a highly competitive league, all we can do is continue to play for each other and go out and do our best.” James has ambitions with the bat and would love dearly to make that number six position his own. Although, once more, it is with the ball that he might prove to be most beneficial. With bowling options likely to be reduced with a number, it is extremely possible that James will be needed to play a more prominent role with the ball in 2019, something he is relishing, “I enjoy netting and if I can put a full pre-season in honing everything and getting to the end of my action, then I will go into the season feeling great.”
It seems to me that it is the game of cricket that keeps bringing James back throughout his career he has had more than enough opportunity to lose interest or drift away from the sport. He talks with great alacrity about the nuances of the game and about his own technique. Such is his knowledge, clear understanding of the technical side and genuine love for the sport, I would advise any youngster coming up through the ranks at Bangor to speak to James. Ultimately, it is the sentimental that has the biggest hold on his heart. ”I was fortunate enough to play with my own father when he was finishing his career and I would love to play with Jacob one day too.”
I hope dearly this will be in Bangor colours.
James Patterson was talking to Paddy Dixon