‘See ball hit ball’ - Ross Adair’s roundabout journey from Ulster Rugby to Irish cricket

Adair battled a lack of opportunities at home, degenerative hips and a career change to make it to international sport

Anyone who played a bit of cricket in school inevitably saw it happen. With the team short on numbers on a given day, one of the rugby lads with decent hand eye co-ordination is called in – he’s big and strong, he’ll be able to give it a whack.

Describing Ross Adair merely as a rugby lad who can give a cricket ball a thump does him a disservice. That said, the description is not completely wide of the mark.

The former Ulster backthree player – he earned one senior cap against the Dragons back in 2015 to go with several more A appearances in the Celtic Cup – is on the cusp of an Ireland debut in cricket. As an underage international, cricket has been part of his life for some time, yet he packs the punch expected of someone coming from a powerful rugby background.

Adair has batted just 13 times in professional T20. It’s a small sample size, but he’s averaging 30 and striking at 178 runs per 100 balls faced – the latter a high figure that bodes well for the shortest format that demands quick scoring.


“I’ll try hit that wee white thing as far and as hard as I can,” chuckles Adair ahead of travelling to to Zimbabwe with Ireland for a three-match T20 tour. “I don’t want to complicate things too much.

“If I see ball, hit ball, I don’t want to think about all the technical stuff. Yes it’s important, but if a ball’s in my area and I think I can hit it for six I’m gonna try and do it.”

Adair’s journey to a potential debut, by his own admission, has been “a weird old road to get here.” After the solitary Ulster cap, opportunities at his home side were limited. “Their backthree was Andrew Trimble, Tommy Bowe and Jared Payne, that was an Irish backthree. There’s not many people my age that would have got into that.”

Adair moved over to Jersey in the English championship. He played there for a few years before a nightmare spell that involved two hip operations. His time at Jersey ended close to the surgeries – the club insists Adair’s degenerative hips had nothing to do with the decision – while his insurance didn’t foot the bill.

“I was released before the surgeries,” explains Adair. “It’s a past life, I don’t want to hold any grudges or anything, Yes, it was bad at the time but it’s worked out really well.

“[The diagnosis was a] bilateral hip impingement. Your femoral head is supposed to be really smooth, instead mine was bumpy and bony and whenever I was rotating the bone was cutting the labrum inside. But then there was a whole load of other issues that came along, osteitis pubis, adductor tendinopathy as well, all merged into one.

“We were supposed to be playing Harlequins in a preseason game at the Stoop, I was involved in a move in the captain’s run. I set off to move, I wanted to stride forward but I couldn’t. That was the start of that and I took maybe 15-18 months to get back.”

Fortunately, the procedures worked and Adair was able to return to club rugby with Ballynahinch. Further Ulster A appearances were earned, though a pro contract was not forthcoming.

With club cricket on the go during his summers, last year, Adair gave up on the rugby dream when a place on the Ireland cricket Wolves (second team) tour to Namibia popped up, only for Covid to interfere. Nonetheless, a good summer highlighted by a T20 century for his province, the Belfast-based Northern Knights, snuck Adair into the national conversation.

“I’m just delighted to be here ... fingers crossed I get a game. Towards the end of rugby, I wasn’t overly enjoying it to be fair. I was getting battered by guys who were twice the size of me, twice as quick, younger guys running rings around me.

“I remember going down to Dooradoyle to play Garryowen in a game, as soon as the ref blew the first whistle I was counting down the 80 minutes until the game was over. That’s when I knew it was time to pack it in. The cricket happened to coincide with it.”

Of course, Adair isn’t an uncommon name in the Irish dressingroom. Ross’ younger brother, Mark, is a senior figure in the squad having gone down the cricket path earlier than his sibling.

The two play together with the Knights and do get on well, though that wasn’t always the case.

“It’s weird, Mark and I didn’t really see eye to eye,” jokes Adair. “We didn’t overly like each other until he was 16 and he went away to Warwickshire, absence makes the heart goes fonder. I was like ‘Hang on, I actually miss this wee shit here.’ He came back and we actually started enjoying each other’s company.

“[Playing alongside Mark] would be a great honour, it would be something I’d remember forever. I imagine he’s maybe prepping a cap-giving speech.”

Much has been made of Ireland’s recent philosophical change to play more aggressive cricket. Adair may have needed absences above him to get a call-up, but no one embodies said aggression on the domestic scene more than him.

A rugby lad no more, but it’s time to see if he can keep whacking a cricket ball at the highest level.

Nathan Johns

Nathan Johns

Nathan Johns is an Irish Times journalist