The local season takes a huge step forward tomorrow with the return of the NCU Premier League and the North West Premiership.

It will the first 50-over club cricket for 600 days, although the North West clubs have voted for a 40-over league season for the next three years but it is still twice the length of matches permitted since last year’s delayed start in July.

The other big difference is that white balls will be used, bringing club cricket into line with inter-provincial and international limited-over games.

“A red ball behaves differently, and as a team that has many seam bowlers, you have to be so much more accurate with the white ball or you will get hurt,” says Nigel Jones, captain of defending NCU champions CIYMS.

“You do not get as much movement through the air or off the pitch with a white ball and after a year and a half playing T20 cricket, the skills need to be sharp and that will be our focus.

“Old dogs like me don’t mind the T20 but there are a lot of young players around and they need 50- over cricket to develop their skills. Batsmen, on the other hand will enjoy facing the white ball will look to cash in so we could see some big totals.”

CIYMS begin their title defence with a return to Stormont, where they lost their T20 Cup semi-final last Saturday to CIYMS, solely due to a sensational century from Jones’ opposite number Gary Wilson.

“It will nice to have another crack at Civil. Gary played an innings which he will look back on fondly for a long time, he batted beautifully, yet we were one wicket away from winning fairly comfortably – there’s such small margins in T20. But we’ll take that confidence into Saturday and hopefully not cough up the boundary balls.”

If CSN can take the consistency in the T20 Cup into the longer format, Jones expects them to be a main challenger for the Premier League “but I don’t think they are as strong as us in 2019”. Carrickfergus, who beat CSN, in last Sunday’s cup final, will be “dangerous, no doubt,” adds Jones.

“Waringstown will be there or thereabouts with (Graham) Hume and (Andre) Malan, two quality operators with the ball and one is a serious bat - and Hume is dangerous enough. And your’e not going to rock up to Lisburn and just roll them over, they will be a tricky challenge on their day”.

All the Ireland players who returned from Netherlands on Tuesday are unavailable for today’s games, as they are still in a mandatory five-day quarantine, and indeed they will also miss the next two Saturdays as they will be involved in the T20 inter-provincial festivals in Pembroke and Bready. So immediately the squads’ strength in depth will be tested.

Meanwhile, 10 schools have entered this year’s Schools Cup which got under way this week, following the delay because of Covid restrictions and the first two quarter-finals are played today at Osborne Park, RBAI v Campbell College II and RBAI II v BRA. Both games start at 11am.