Graeme McCarter admits ‘he’s buzzing’ ahead of the start of the interprovincial series next week, and eager to wear the green of Ireland after six years in the international wilderness.
Capped at just 18, the former Gloucestershire all-rounder won the last of his seven caps six years ago against Scotland, but feels that he’s now ‘bowling better than ever’ in the Northern Knights build up to the campaign.
Now 28, it promises to be a big year for ‘Grum’ who has joined Carrickfergus, after a successful spell at CSNI.
“I felt like it was time for a change after five years at CSNI,” said McCarter. “I’ve always liked the way Carrick went about their cricket and how they enjoy the game.
“I was on the look-out for a new challenge and it was a chance to work with Ryan Eagleson, who would have been a big influence on my game growing up with Ireland youth teams. It’ll be good for my game to play alongside him once again and learn from having him close by.”
Knights Head Coach Simon Johnston knows better than most the quality that McCarter possesses, and he’s backing the all-rounder to have a major impact on the season.
“Graeme has been one of the stand-out seamers in the interpros over the last number of years,” said Johnston.
“I think sometimes he just gets overlooked because people just expect the quality he delivers week in week out, and he’s been about the scene for so long. But I think everyone forgets he’s still only 28!
“This year will be a huge year for him and will be watching closely to see if he can hopefully push his chances of an Irish recall.”
McCarter himself feels his game has improved dramatically since he was given his debut by Phil Simmons a decade ago while still a teenager.
Graeme McCarter gets his first cap from Ireland manager Roy Torrens
“I played against Namibia at Stormont when I was just 18 in 2011. Maybe it was too soon, but I can certainly say I’m a much better bowler now than I was then in the games I played. I guess I was selected as much for potential at the time.
“I’m in a really good place at the minute and bowling as well as I’ve ever done in my career so far. I still very much have ambitions to play for Ireland. I feel I’ve still my best years ahead of me as I’m only 28, and in my prime as a bowler.
“I’ve learned and developed over the years adding experience to my armoury. My thought processes, how to work out batsmen are so much better now than back then.
“It has been frustrating at times to have been virtually discarded by the age of 22 but you’ve just got to keep working hard, performing and hopefully bashing down the door and getting noticed by the selectors. I know myself and hopefully the coaches will notice too that my game is improving year on year and force my way back into Ireland reckoning.”
McCarter puts a lot of his resurgence as a cricketer down to the influence of Simon Johnston, with the pair forming a bond.
McCarter pictured after taking five wickets against Leinster Lightning
“Jonty has been great with me this past few years,” said McCarter.
“Not just on the technical side of things but he also gets me as a character and knows what to say and when to say it. I’m pretty laid back. While I’ll always give 100% I like a bit of down time too and he knows that.
“He won’t overload you with analysis and feedback but gives you just enough to make sure you’ll improve which works for me. We have a great rapport as I do too with ‘Eagy’ who gives me a few pointers here and there. He’s got so much experience and it’s great to be able to tap into that. Those two would be the major coaching influences for me at the moment.”
A talented sportsman, McCarter was a dual youth international, having played badminton for Ireland right through youth level before concentrating on cricket. A more than useful batsman, he averaged over 50 in his first season with the Knights in 2016. However in recent years the chances to show his prowess have been few and far between.
“It’s been a case of not having too many opportunities with the guys at the top of the order doing really, really well. I’ve been coming in with only a few balls to go in the T20s where it’s a case of having tee off straight away. Not much chance to play yourself in.
“I’d like to move up a bit but the top order has been so strong, there hasn’t been much scope. I’m okay if we are winning games, but hopefully when the chance comes I can show what I can do and help the side get over the line in a finishing role.”
Dean and Graeme McCarter after winning the Ulster Bank Schools Cup with Foyle
McCarter has shown just what is he capable of when given extra batting responsibility, averaging over 40 and scoring hundreds during a very successful overseas professional stint with Cornwall in New Zealand.
“That was a great experience for me. The climate, people and facilities were top rate. It was a very high standard of cricket competing against players of the calibre of Jesse Ryder and Doug Bracewell on a weekly basis. It helped my all-round game massively, and it’s a great way of escaping a northern hemisphere winter. It was a bit of a shock to my system to spending a winter here last year – the first time I’d had to that in about ten years.”
Released by English County Gloucestershire just before his 22nd birthday, it was a tough time for McCarter, but he responded well in the ‘real world’ outside the bubble of professional cricket.
“It was certainly disappointing and annoying at the time to be released, but I’m stronger for it, and three or four years ahead of my peers if it had happened later. I’m happy with my life at the minute.
Graeme McCarter, Stuart Thompson and Craig Young with Geoff Lawson
“I didn’t have much in the way of qualifications because cricket had been my life up to that point. I had a couple of A levels, but hadn’t really thought too far ahead. That was one of the reasons I moved to Civil Service and they were great for me. They got me started on the business side of things and from that I got a job and I’ll always be grateful to them for that.
“I’ve built on that through contacts and worked in real estate, and thanks to one of my previous landlords I’ve just started a new job three weeks ago.”
While there hasn’t been much contact with Ireland Head Coach Graham Ford apart from a few pointers on the boundary edge, McCarter is fine with that, accepting that the real talking has to be done on the pitch.
He’s a big supporter of the new interprovincial set-up and is backing the Knights to challenge a Leinster Lightning side who have dominated the competition since it’s re-introduction in 2013.
Graeme McCarter celebrates one of his five wickets against Scotland in the ICup
“I think the new format is great. You now have on paper four evenly matched teams who are playing for something in every game which is brilliant. The Knights side is a serious team with no real weaknesses really.
“I’m just buzzing for the new season to begin. It’s a new beginning with the new format plus a new team at Carrick.
“I’ve got a new lease of life ahead of what’s going to be a really fantastic year cricket wise and I know just how keen everyone is to get going.”
McCarter and the Knights open their season with a tough away day trip to the defending champions, taking on Lightning at Sydney Parade on Tuesday May 4th.