Feature: How signing big-hitting overseas player provided winning formula for North Somerset cricket team
PUBLISHED: 12:02 06 September 2017 | UPDATED: 12:07 06 September 2017
County cricket teams snap up overseas stars every year in the hope those big name players can attract titles and crowds. This is also the case in the lower leagues, and this year an aggressive batsman from Trinidad made all the difference to a North Somerset side. Reporter Sarah Robinson has taken a look at Congresbury Cricket Club's hugely successful season - and the impact signing an overseas player can have.
Trinidadian Iraq Thomas arrived in North Somerset a year after hitting a 21-ball century in a twenty20 tournament in Tobago, where he eventually smacked 131 off 31 deliveries.
To put the feat into context, West Indies batsman Chris Gayle’s record-breaking T20 century for the Royal Challengers Bangalore came in 30 balls, albeit at a higher standard of cricket.
Speaking about his incredible innings, Thomas told the Mercury: “How did I do it? At the end of the day, I just back myself.”
Congresbury Cricket Club have recruited from overseas for a number of years, and hoped Thomas could help the team secure promotion back to the West of England Premier League (WEPL).
First team captain Sam Evans said: “It is a bit of a lottery when you get an overseas player because you don’t know what they are going to be like.
“You are spending a decent amount of the club’s funds for that season. You want to make sure they are someone who fits in, but until you see them in person and watch them play, you don’t know.”
This year, Congresbury struck gold. With 19 innings under his belt, Thomas was the first team’s top scorer. He made 786 runs at an average of 52.42, including two centuries and a top score of 141*.
He was pretty useful with the ball too, taking 31 wickets at an average of 16.39 runs, with a best of 4-10.
But individual statistics matter little if the team doesn’t win. Thankfully for Congresbury, the club were crowned Bristol & District Senior Division champions after edging a nail-biting final fixture away at Downend by just a single run.
Evans said: “Winning the league is a massive deal for us. It makes a difference when you have someone week in week out who turns up and does what he does.”
Signing 24-year-old Thomas began with an approach to a cricket agency.
Evans said: “Signing an overseas player means you get a quality player for the whole season. Because you are paying them they will play every game, and having that commitment is a big deal because you will always have people miss two or three matches because they go on holiday.”
Congresbury see signing an overseas player as a two-way commitment, though. Evans explained: “I guess some clubs look for an overseas player and just see them as a person who comes and plays but don’t pay them a huge amount of attention outside of the cricket.
“But we make a big effort to include them.”
This attention clearly made a big difference for Thomas, whose performances drew good crowds to Congresbury’s ground.
It was not his first time playing in England, but he describes his experience at Congresbury as the most enjoyable cricket he has played in a long time.
He said: “I am so happy I have had the opportunity to come here. The best thing about Congresbury is the people. They are so welcoming.
“That’s why I performed so well, because I’ve got no worries on my shoulders.”
Perhaps the most impressive thing about Thomas is how he adapted his game to suit the conditions.
The wicket played a lot slower than he is used to, and this meant making adjustments to his game.
He said: “I am an aggressive batsman but playing a stupid shot and getting out would put the team under pressure. I had to change my shots. I had a lot of adapting to do.”
Although cricket can be seen as a team game won by individual brilliance, the greatest part of Congresbury’s success came in how well all the players stepped up.
Evans said: “This year, everyone wanted to play for each other.
“It is not often you can say everyone in the team has contributed but this year everyone scored runs and we have had four players take more than 20 wickets.”
There’s more to come, too. Teenagers have made the big step up to the first team, and a few of them are starting to make their names in Somerset County Cricket Club’s youth sides.
That will stand Congresbury in good stead as they return to the WEPL – a league in which they feel they belong.
He said: “The step up will be quite big but if we play like we did this year, we should be comfortable.”
But there is one big thing in Congresbury’s favour – Thomas has already signed a contract to return next year.