After sitting out of Irelandís three-game ODI series against England in Southampton, James McCollum will be looking to make the most of the upcoming Inter-Provincial Series with the Northern Knights, starting with Thursdayís opener against the North West Warriors.
McCollum has played in nine ODIís for Ireland since making his debut in February 2019 and scored consecutive half-centuries against Zimbabwe in Belfast last summer.
The 25-year-old was named in the 22-man party that travelled to the Ageas Bowl last month but wasnít selected in the matchday squads with Gareth Delany instead preferred to partner Paul Stirling at the top of the order.
Since returning, McCollum has scored 109 runs in three innings for Waringstown at an average of 54.5 and strike rate of 111.2 as they attempt to qualify for the play-offs.
He scored 57 in an 18-run defeat to CIYMS at the weekend and although he wasnít in the middle during the recent international series, he was working away in the nets and feels his game is in a good spot heading into a busy late-summer schedule.
ďIt feels in a decent place,Ē he said.
ďItís a bit hard to tell because we havenít had a lot of game time. Usually youíre sitting in August with 30 games or so under your belt but obviously we havenít had that this year so itís tough to gauge where youíre at.
ďI worked hard in the nets over in Southampton for three weeks without playing much cricket but we were training most days.
ďSimon Johnston sorted us out with a good training schedule when we came back so itís been great to get a few games under my belt and get back with the Waringstown boys. I feel like I havenít played with them in so long because I didnít play many games for them last year.
ďItís great to be back there and scoring a few runs. We might have to win our final two games to qualify for the semi-finals so hopefully we can put in a couple of big performances.Ē
Being left out of any squad isnít easy but given that the coronavirus pandemic had already wiped out the majority of McCollumís opportunities for the season up to this point, it has left him (and many other players) without the desired rhythm and match practice.
The last competitive cricket he played before returning to the club game two weeks ago was on an Ireland Wolves tour to South Africa in February where he batted twice against Namibia, so he is looking to make the most of the run of Knights fixtures coming up.
ďItís always disappointing to get left out but I would pride myself on my work ethic and the thought put into my game and training.
ďFor me, Iím doing what I love and Iím waking up trying to get better whether Iím sitting on the sideline or not, but I do feel like I have a bit of a point to prove now.
ďIím not trying to look into it too much. Itís a small setback personally not playing those games but the guys did so well.
ďThe batters in the last game were unbelievable and itís still great to be a part of even if I didnít get to play.
ďHopefully I can take my opportunity when we play the 50-over games in the middle of September. I want to go out and keep enjoying my cricket.
ďI know if I keep putting in the hard work that itíll eventually pay off and Iím not too stressed about it.Ē
McCollum opened the batting for the Knights in the Inter-Provincial Trophy last season with Shane Getkate, scoring 59 runs in three innings at a strike rate of 134.1 and high score of 42* in victory over the Warriors.
He has worked hard on his white ball game over the past couple of years after excelling in red ball cricket earlier in his career, and despite his international status, he isnít taking a place in the Knights team for granted.
ďItís been difficult over the last 12-18 months because I was effectively just a solely red ball player even at the start of 2019.
ďI scored a couple of hundreds for the Wolves which helped and with the lack of red ball cricket over the past year, Iíve had to really push myself out of my comfort zone in white ball cricket and get better in areas that wouldnít have been my strengths.
ďI feel Iíve done that to an extent but still have a long way to go.
ďItís quite exciting for me because I see myself as a red ball player but have had a chance to work on my white ball game.
ďIf youíd asked me 18 months ago would I be playing white ball cricket for Ireland, I would have said no so itís a bonus for me.
ďI donít know if Iíll play in the T20ís because we have a lot of guys knocking on the door that have been playing well in club cricket.
ďRoss Adair has been scoring runs and Marc Ellison is very unlucky to miss out on the first game as heís a seriously good player.
ďThe Knights are now in a position where we are leaving out players who are scoring consistent runs.
ďIf I get the opportunity, hopefully I can go out and express myself. If not, Iíll keep working hard.
ďIf I think back to where we were two seasons ago and compare it with the depth we have now itís ridiculous.
ďA lot of credit has to go to Gary Wilson and Simon Johnston for really sorting out the structure we have in place now and everything behind the scenes that you donít see on the pitch.
ďStirlo coming back is going to be a massive help even though itís only for one game and you have these guys coming back from County cricket that we can learn from.
ďTheyíve almost professionalised the set-up a bit more and itís as competitive as it has ever been.Ē
The Knights will be looking to build on their success of 2019, where they beat all three teams in as many days to lift the Trophy title.
They seem to have all bases covered and itís now just about showing it on the pitch, starting this week before hosting Leinster Lightning at Comber next Tuesday.
ďWe played good cricket in the Festival down at Pembroke.
ďWhen we are on form, we tick all the boxes but itís tough because you donít know whether lads will be rusty or not.
ďWe hope that guys getting club cricket in will help and we will go out to play fearless cricket and enjoy ourselves like we did last season.
ďI remember we were very good in the field last season and we have set the benchmark there so we will be looking to pick that up again, express ourselves with the bat, have clear plans with the ball and hopefully execute.Ē