HOW do you improve on your best year to date?
That is the question facing Jersey Men’s Cricket coach Neil MacRae.
The Caesareans come off the back of a stellar year which saw them finish top of CWC Challenge League Group B.
With that, the dream of playing in the 50-over Cricket World Cup was kept alive.
The young, energetic Jersey outfit endeared themselves to the locals in astonishing fashion during the home stand of the round-robin series, and MacRae firmly believes that momentum will carry over into 2023.
He said: ‘We have given ourselves a major opportunity in the next stage of qualification.
‘Making it through Challenge League B was a big step for us, but after a nice Christmas break, we are looking forward to the next stage, rather than back on what has been achieved.’
What awaits his side, is another trip to Africa for the Qualifier Play-off, hosted by Namibia over the back end of March and into April.
The Islanders enjoyed a clean sweep of Challenge League wins during 2022 in the continent, while four of the squad are currently based in the Southern Hemisphere, playing club cricket.
Nick Greenwood plays in New Zealand, Ben Ward in South Africa, while Jonty Jenner and Julius Sumerauer are both in Australia.
MacRae said: ‘It is brilliant to have a few of the guys competing at a high level over our winter.
‘They will gain valuable experience as well as avoid any winter rust.
‘Cricket is very different down there as opposed to being back home, so the more familiarity they have with the conditions, the more comfortable they will be for Namibia.
‘Asa Tribe and Josh Lawrenson are also away at university in the UK, receiving regular coaching at a great level. To have so many of our core group growing away from home can only bode well for us.’
What perhaps went unnoticed during Jersey’s unprecedented 2022 was the amount of time given up by the players and the staff.
The side endured a long stint in Africa to play in both the 50-over and T20 formats across a month.
They returned home only to play five more 50-over internationals.
‘We have to thank the employers of everyone involved.
‘Fortunately they’ve had a great understanding of the requirements and sacrifices needed by the players and we were lucky to field such strong sides with the amount of time off needed.
‘The situation looks very similar for Namibia, so to have a full squad available for our biggest challenge yet, is a great position to be in.
‘We have to praise the players too.
‘Not just the time they gave up to compete, but the countless hours of training in preparation for tournaments.
‘Everyone involved made sacrifices last year and to reap the rewards of their commitment was very special.’
It is easy to look at the top of Jersey Cricket and see that the side is in a good place.
But what created the end product was years in the making, all the way through Jersey Cricket in the developmental stage.
MacRae said: ‘We are now seeing the efforts of everybody from the ground up.
‘Grassroots cricket in Jersey has been on the rise for a number of years and it is that increased standard that has fed the young talent into the international side.
‘The only way for us to continue to improve as a small cricketing country is to protect the developmental side of the sport and Jersey Cricket has done an excellent job in laying the foundations for the Island to perform on an international level.
‘The Boys’ U19s have an exciting year with the U19 European World Cup pathway tournament in August in the Netherlands.
‘That will be a fantastic event for our younger lads to showcase their skills against the elite in Europe
‘They have had great exposure as part of a team in the domestic league over here and that is just another example of how important it is that we keep grassroots cricket strong in Jersey.’
MacRae’s side will soon embark on a ten-week training programme in preparation Namibia, which includes acclimatisation in South Africa the week prior to the tournament.