ARDMORE were the fairytale story in North West cricket last season – a first Premiership title for the unsung Co Derry side after 144 years. But captain Rachit Gaur is refusing to set any targets as they prepare to begin the defence of their crown on Saturday.

A seventh place finish in 2022, 64 points behind champions Newbuildings, ensured that Ardmore were not even under the radar as potential winners this time last year but the simple philosophy of taking it one game at a time proved a successful formula and one that Gaur is hoping to repeat.

“We didn’t really think about anything last season but after beating (perennial favourites) Brigade we knew we were in contention,” says Gaur. “We always took one game at a time, doing the basics right and it will be the same process this year.

“Although we are defending our title, I’ll tell the boys there is no pressure; confidence comes from practice and we have had a good winter. I believe champions are made in the off-season when you work on your weaknesses and implement those learnings during the season. We actually started training for two weeks in November and have been non-stop for the last three and a half months.”

Although the club have decided not to replace Avi Mgijima as overseas replacement, Gaur insists they have a strong enough squad to be competitive again.

“There are going to some tough selection decisions,” the skipper adds. “We have a squad of 17  who are all good to play in the 1st XI so it is going to be hard to please everyone.”

There are two newcomers – wicket-keeper/batter Hayden Melly, who played for Ireland Under-19s in Guernsey, has joined from Brigade and Ciaran Roundtree, an Irish passport-holder from South Africa, will have a full season after playing a couple of matches at the end of last season.  

Young Harry Zimmermann made his debut for North West Warriors last season and Gaur is hoping “he cements his place” in the provincial squad, while not entirely giving up on a call-up himself.

“I played for the Emerging Warriors a few years ago and for Warriors against MCC, but I can only control the controllables. I have been training hard and working on my fitness. If I get a call it will be good but if not that will be fine too, I will be just trying to do my best for Ardmore and help the club win trophies.”

Gaur is currently back in India, attending his cousin’s wedding – he returns on Wednesday - but Derry is now home, where he works and lives with wife Kelly-Ann, whom he met at a Christmas party, and their four-year-old daughter Cora.

“We’re expecting another child in June so I’m praying that is doesn’t arrive at the weekend. Mum is coming over to help but I have asked my wife to give birth on a Monday or Tuesday so I don’t miss any cricket,” he only half-jokes!

When Gaur arrived in Ireland in 2013, it was only his second choice.

“I was actually planning to go to Australia to do a Masters in IT but I ended up in Dublin. I played at Railway Union for five years before joining Strabane and then Brigade, where we won the league and Senior Cup.”

Gaur who played cricket for his district in India at Under-17 and U19 level, joined Ardmore in 2021 and expects the usual suspects to be the challengers for their title.

“Brigade are always there, along with Bready and Donemana, they gave us a tough time last year. But there is no reason why we shouldn’t be up there again.”

The champions are at Beechgrove on May 4 but Gaur is hoping for a dry week so that that the Bleachgreen will be ready for their opening match against Coleraine.

Clubs voted to go ahead as scheduled but the NCU season has been delayed until May 4 because of the wet grounds.

Saturday's opening fixtures
Premiership: Ardmore v Coleraine, Bready v Killyclooney, Eglinton v Brigade, Donemana v Newbuildings.

Championship: St Johnston v Ballyspallen, Bonds Glen v The Nedd, Fox Lodge v Strabane, Burndennett v Glendermott.