Johnny Morton (News Letter)
Nigel Jones has just taken four wickets, two catches and smashed 38 from 27 balls for good measure in a win over Armagh, yet again proving that he remains one of the very best players in the Premier League, even at 36.
The CIYMS skipper is leading a challenge on the league title this season with his talented group of players, one which feels like can only be stopped by a few teams, even at this early stage.
“This team is probably the best balanced of any in the four seasons I’ve been here,” said Jones.
“It probably has more depth and we aren’t heavily reliant on a few. I think CI in the past have had strong squads, but if you really dig into it, it’s two or three guys doing the majority of the work.
“If you look around here today, there are guys who haven’t got to bowl or bat that are taking wickets and averaging 50 already this season.
“When we are winning, we are winning well.
“The North Down game still hurts us a bit because we shouldn’t have lost. It was the kick up the backside we needed maybe and we’ve been going well ever since that.”
Jones touched down in Northern Ireland as a fresh-faced 21-year-old having played two seasons in Scotland, linking up with Cooke Collegians in 2003. He spent three summers there in Section One, meeting his future wife and deciding it was time to call here home.
Moving on to CSNI, he spent nine successful years at the club.
“I must admit when I first arrived in Northern Ireland that I didn’t know much about Irish cricket and I thought my chance of playing at any higher level was probably over after leaving New Zealand,” said Jones.
“At that stage I was starting to break into the Canterbury white ball team and I had a couple of good second-eleven years there, but I was in a relationship with my wife from Lisburn so something had to give. She had a couple of seasons of coming back and forward before I decided I would settle here.
“I started to learn more about Irish cricket and it was in 2007 I got invited along by Adi Birrell for a training session before the boys went to the World Cup.
“After that I felt it was something I would love to have a crack at myself but I still had a couple of years to qualify and those years really helped focus my mind. I had a couple of big years in 2008 and 2009 and started to get noticed then.”
In rather ironic circumstances, Jones made his debut against New Zealand in 2009 ahead of the Twenty20 World Cup in England later that year and went on to be selected for three World Cups during his international career before announcing retirement from that level aged 30.
“I scored quite a fun runs and a few wickets as a batting all-rounder, but when I broke into the Ireland team I was more of a bowling all-rounder,” he said.
“I was lucky to have played in that era because we had a strong squad and a lot of depth on the bench with me, Albert van der Merwe, Andre Botha and the likes of Andrew White and Gary Wilson occasionally. Guys who knew their game sitting there ready to go.
“Albert and I had about six weeks of net bowling at the 2011 World Cup in India rather than playing but we did the 12th man duties and got on with it. I had a really great experience in 2012 in Sri Lanka where I played five out of six matches at the tournament.
“Life then changes and a little one came along and I decided to concentrate on my development role that went from 30 hours to 40 hours. It was a very special time.”
Jones has always been a natural leader and that is part of the game that he obviously finds very enjoyable.
“I’ve always been a person who loves the leadership and captaincy side of the game, and at CSNI I took the reigns over in 2007 up until I left,” he said.
“When I came to CIYMS I took over in the second season, so I have done 11 years of captaincy in the Premier League.
“I guess there is an element of leading by example and trying to get the boys up and knowing you are doing your bit. By being a coach with the Ireland underage teams, I probably bring a bit of that into it.
“What keeps it going for me is the aim of taking wickets, getting runs and winning games of cricket. I like the challenge and I love coming up against the better players.
“I want to take guys with me and I guess that’s the captain and coach side of it, at some point I will say ‘I’m pretty much done here and mentally and physically, that’s me’, but there’s no sign of that yet.”