It is often said that patience is a virtue and it was certainly something that CJ van der Walt had to have a lot of upon his arrival in Northern Ireland.
Moving from South Africa in 2018 to live with his wife, their house overlooks Carrickfergus’ Middle Road ground but he would have to wait another year to get onto the pitch.
He more than made up for that lost time in his debut NCU season as he helped Carrick reach their first ever Irish Senior Cup quarter-final and picked up All-Rounder of the Year after scoring 653 runs and collecting 30 wickets in all competitions.
The 23-year-old enjoyed previous UK stints in Manchester and Glasgow but would come to visit his wife with regularity and there was only one place he wanted to be playing his cricket.
“When I played my last season in Manchester, I used to come over and visit her for a week or two at a time,” he said.
“We stay right at the top of Middle Road – I’m looking down at the club right now while speaking.
“I used to come and visit her and over the weekend they would be playing and I thought it was class. I imagined staying up here and playing for a club like that. I used to go down there and that’s how I started to get in contact with the guys.
“Robbie (Humphreys. WSX Cricket) is my agent so he told me to go down and have a chat with them and when I went down I saw the pictures of AB de Villiers and thought it must have been a good club.
“I didn’t know much about it but I came over the year after and couldn’t play any cricket because they already had Pat Botha, so they couldn’t have me as an overseas.
“I took that year getting to know the people and that’s when I started to train here. Eagy (Ryan Eagleson) got me to some training sessions with the Knights and I trained with the club.
“I went to some games with them and that’s how I spent my time and how they started to get to know me. For a full season I was around without being able to play and they wanted to make it work.”
Van der Walt announced himself in the Premier League with a five-wicket haul in his very first game against Instonians and also finished on 40*. He went on to record five half-centuries in total and averaged 44.78 in the league but he isn’t about to rest on his laurels and is striving to make even more improvements.
“This year coming in to play for them for the first time was unreal,” he added. “It was one of the best seasons I’ve had in the UK since coming over. We played against some really great teams and were able to test ourselves.
“I had a pretty good season and everything kind of flowed. That first game kicked everything off for my season. “It was a lot different from all other seasons I’ve played but I feel I played my part.
“I know there is a lot of room for improvement and I want to get there, but I really enjoyed my first season in the NCU.
“In that first season you set up your own goals on what you want to achieve and what you want to get out of it.
“This was a really good season and I got some of it out of it but there’s still room for improvement. We played against some really class players and it was always a battle.
“You wake up in the mornings and know any game you play isn’t going to be a walk in the park.”
As well as adapting to playing for a new cricket club, van der Walt has also had to deal with the transition of moving to another country on a permanent basis. Having those from the club around has undoubtedly helped make that big switch easier and he feels right at home.
“Coming from South Africa to here, it has definitely been hard getting used to the weather!” he said.
“I found my feet quite quickly and got a job through Iain Parkhill so I work for him. That set me up so that I don’t have to think what I’m doing with myself during the winter when there is no cricket on.
“It definitely does (make it easier). If you make good friends you can nip down to the club to have a beer or watch some football.
“There is always someone around and that makes you feel like you fit in. It wasn’t like I just play cricket for them and then go home. It definitely made it better.”
One of the good friends he made in the past year or so was Carrick’s overseas professional Jacques Snyman, who just like van der Walt, is from South Africa. Snyman set the NCU alight in what was also his first season in Northern Ireland, scoring 1085 runs – a tally that could only be bettered by Andre Malan – at an average of 54.25 and blistering strike-rate of 123.86.
He also registered the highest individual score of 2019 with his 190* against Instonians before heading back to his homeland where he hit a half-century against England for a Cricket South Africa Invitational XI.
Having Snyman there helped bring the best out of van der Walt and he says having someone to bounce ideas off is priceless.
“I made contact with him before he came over so we had a big chat,” he said. “With him coming over, more than 50% of my time on training evenings was spent with Jacques hitting balls in our own time and I was getting to learn from his experience. He played a massive role.
“He has a really good thinking mind and a fantastic cricket brain so I tried to absorb as much as I possibly could.
“We used to go to the gym and socialise together as well, so it was class to have someone like that around.
“When you bat with him, he has a good cricket mind to tell you how to deal with the situation and that definitely helped.
“Someone like that definitely makes your day of cricket much easier. Everything that he says make sense.
“From now on, I know that him and I will be friends forever and I have someone to help me. Even though he is in South Africa right now, we still talk about cricket a lot.”
Van der Walt spent most of last summer and this off-season training with the Northern Knights, working with head coach Simon Johnston to help further hone his skills and get his game to where he wants it to be. It is no easy task breaking into a Knights side that is packed full of international and quality, but van der Walt was feeling positive heading into the 2020 campaign and that he was ready to level up.
“I trained with the Knights for nearly the whole summer last season on and off and then for the whole off-season this year,” he said.
“The guys worked so hard and I’ve never felt so good leading into a season. The experience and quality of training they can provide to our players in the off-season is unreal.
“You learn so much more playing with people who have had that experience. “Facing the pace and spin bowlers, they are looking to improve themselves so if you’re batting in the nets you need to really work to get through it.
“If you do, then you know you’re able to get through a guys best because he is really working to improve. “It isn’t like you’re going to a session just to hit a few balls – there is always something to think about coming out of it.”
When cricket does get back underway, van der Walt will be striving towards making a First Class debut and seeing where that can take him. He has lofty ambitions and goals he wants to become reality and is certainly ready to put the work in to achieve it.
“I will qualify next year as a citizen so I’m focusing on that and seeing where that could take me,” he added.
“That would make the paths forward easier for me and being able to work my way towards squads and things like that.
“I just want to see where this can take me and I want to keep going higher and higher. For now, I’m striving to get that First Class debut and then see where it can take me.”