Leinster Lightning and the North West Warriors kick off the inter-provincial season, with May hosting four rounds of the IP50 and the first weekend IP20 festival, as Ireland’s cricketers warm up for a busy summer of international cricket.
Fans were left disappointed as another season without red ball cricket was announced, but whether Cricket Ireland’s choice to prioritise the shortest format ahead of the upcoming T20 World Cup pays dividends remains to be seen. The same decision last year did not yield the desired results, but with T20I fixtures organised against India, New Zealand, South Africa and Afghanistan in the lead up, a stronger performance will be expected by all involved.
Fringe players from all four teams will see the Interpros as their last chance to book a place on the flight out to Australia later this year, so competition should be fierce.
Last year was a relatively unsuccessful season by Leinster’s elevated standards, taking home just one of the two trophies available. The Dubliners will once again be the team to beat, with an intimidating core of international experience.
While they have lost an icon of Irish cricket with Kevin O’Brien’s move to Munster, they have as a replacement acquired Harry Tector, arguably the most in form batter in country in the 50 over format.
A batting line-up of Irish internationals including Andrew Balbirnie, Harry Tector, George Dockrell, Simi Singh and Lorcan Tucker combined with a devastating seam attack led by Josh Little, Barry McCarthy and Peter Chase make it hard to see how anyone can stop the Lightning claiming yet more silverware.
Captain: George Dockrell
Star player: George Dockrell
Dockrell’s transformation into a middle order batter was completed last season when he delivered a string of sensational innings. He crossed the 50 mark in every single IP50 innings last year and finished with a season average of 121. Early indication from preseason friendlies suggest that Dockrell is in a similar vein of form this year, so big scores are expected from the Lightning Captain.
Uncapped player to watch: Gavin Hoey
A young leg-spinner who can hold his own with the bat, Hoey impressed in his debut season last year. In his three T20 appearances, he showed glimpses of an extremely promising young player. His second match saw him finish with figures of 2/12 (4), while his third appearance showed what he is capable of at the crease with a big hitting 37 from 28 balls.
Promoted to the core 12-man Leinster squad for this season, Hoey will be keen to make even more of an impact.
IP50: 1st (1st in 2021) – A starting XI that consists primarily of seasoned Irish internationals should see Leinster comfortably home to a ninth consecutive IP50 trophy.
Munster’s first season competing in all competitions was hampered by injury, as all three of their Irish international players, Tyrone Kane, Gareth Delany and Curtis Campher, missed significant chunks of the season through injury. The rest of their squad put in some admirable performances and pulled off some great victories, but it was not enough to stop the Reds from finishing bottom of the table in both competitions.
This year sees their number of capped players boosted further with the arrival of Kevin O’Brien and David Delany, who both should strengthen the Reds squad considerably, although this is offset somewhat by the loss of Josh Manley, their top wicket taker in both competitions last year, to the Northern Knights.
Captain: PJ Moor
Star player: Gareth Delany
The big hitting allrounder is a man in flying form. His ability in T20s has been known for a while, and he seems to have found a comfortable spot as Ireland’s number 3 in the format. Delany has begun to find his feet a bit more in the 50-over format as well, topping both the runs and the wickets table for the Ireland Wolves in their recent tour of Namibia. Delany’s confidence will be sky high after scoring 104 and taking 5/39 in the final match of the tour, and if he continues in that vein, there could be a lot of players leaving the field after facing the Reds feeling shellshocked.
Uncapped player to watch: Murray Commins
The South Africa-born opener was the second highest run scorer in last year’s IP50, only coming behind George Dockrell’s barnstorming season. Having qualified to represent Ireland earlier in the year, Commins was recently awarded a retainer contract with the national team
A skilful, classy, left-handed stroke-maker, Commins’ debut for the Men in Green is all but guaranteed this summer, and he will be keen to remove any sliver of doubt with another strong season for Munster.
50 over: 3rd (4th in 2021) – A solid core of international experience, several with a point to prove, will form a formidable back bone to the Red’s team this season. Their batting line up looks very strong, but a fairly inexperienced bowling attack may prove their undoing.
The Knights had an underwhelming season last year in the IP50s, finishing third on Net Run Rate ahead of Munster. A second-place finish in the 20-over competition was caused by an unpredictable mix of strong victories and feeble collapses. This was exemplified by the penultimate IP20 festival, which saw them bowled out for 97 on the Saturday, before setting a target of 221 on the Sunday.
Their line up for the coming season suffered a series of blows, as captain Harry Tector made the switch to Leinster, before their top scorer in last season’s IP50, Luke Georgeson, made his abrupt Central Contract U-turn to put his place in the provincial team in question.
After an established top three of Paul Stirling, James McCollum and Jeremy Lawlor, this leaves the Knight’s batting line-up looking a little shallow, and pressure will be on players like Neil Rock, Ruhan Pretorius and the Adair brothers to provide runs down the order.
Their bowling also looks a little light. Mark Adair and Josh Manley will make a potent opening pair, but the Knights may find themselves lacking in firepower in the rest of their line-up.
Captain: Mark Adair
Star player: Paul Stirling
Paul Stirling had a fairly quiet season last year for the Knights, with the notable exception of an explosive 64 from 26 balls against Leinster in a 50 over clash, and a blistering 46 from 23 balls in the second IP20 festival. His remaining six innings saw him score a total of 84 runs, which by Stirling’s high standards will have been disappointing, and he will be keen to improve on that this year. The man from Belfast will likely miss some of the season to franchise duty, but when he is available, the Knights will be hoping for some impressive scores from their talisman.
Uncapped player to watch: Ross Adair
The former professional rugby player and brother to Knight’s new captain Mark Adair could have a big season ahead of him. He was the Knight’s top scorer in the IP20 last season, despite often coming in as low as 8 in the order and finished the tournament with a strike rate of 188. A more prominent role this season, and a likely promotion to opener when Stirling is unavailable, could see Ross Adair produce some fireworks, which will be particularly important when the national team are crying out for more big hitters.
50 over: 2nd (3rd in 2021) – The Knights promise to have another unpredictable season. On a good day with their big guns firing, they are capable of demolishing any of the other teams in the competition. However, if a few of their big names fail to perform, then they may struggle for other options. Their final position is entirely dependent on which happens more.
The Warriors’ were an impressive unit last season under new head coach Gary Wilson, proving to be a tenacious and difficult to beat opponent. This was rewarded with a second-place finish in the IP50 and claiming the silverware in the IP20. With Gary Wilson moving on to a role with the national team (replaced by Boyd Rankin), will the Warriors be able to repeat their prior success?
The Warriors will lean on the experience of Porterfield, McBrine, Young, Getkate and Hume to inspire their squad of young guns through the season. Several fringe members of the Ireland team in their XI will be keen to push their way into (or back into) international contention ahead of the T20 World Cup, such a Doheny, Getkate, McClintock and McGuire. Injuries to some big names and a shallow squad depth will see several younger players handed debuts this season, and the Warriors’ success could depend on how well they are able to step up in the big moments.
Captain: Andy McBrine
Star player: Andy McBrine
Andy ‘Scra’ McBrine has been having a very good year. His man of the series performance, batting at three, against the West Indies was followed by a recall to the T20 side – a format he had long been ignored in. He rewarded this faith with a career best 36 from just 21 balls in the winner-takes-all semi final against Oman, an innings that may well have added just enough run pressure to inspire Oman’s subsequent collapse.
McBrine will be determined to lead from the front with both bat and ball this season, and on current form could easily be the deciding factor in more than one match.
Uncapped player to watch: Nathan McGuire
The Paul Stirling-esque young all-rounder showed glimpses of his class at the Under 19 World Cup, and while his contributions to the Warriors have been largely limited to the bat in previous seasons, that is likely to change.
Capable of clearing the boundary rope with ease, opening the batting or coming in as a late order big hitter, and drying up the run rate with his tidy off-spin, McGuire is due a breakout season, if not this year, then very soon.
50 over: 4th (2nd in 2021) – A difficult call to make, but injuries to key players such as Craig Young and Shane Getkate for the first few 50 over matches will see the Warriors starting the season on the back foot. Given how close the competition for second place looks this year, that slight disadvantage could be enough to leave the North-West with an uphill battle all season. Another T20 trophy however, should not be ruled out.
T20 predictions – Trying to pick a winner for the IP20 seems an exercise in futility, and rolling a dice would be as accurate as sitting down to analyse the squads. Leinster’s 50 over advantage is nullified somewhat by their comparative lack of power hitters. While Munster (Delany, Ford and O’Brien), the Knights (Stirling and Ross Adair) and the Warriors (McClintock, Doheny and McGuire) have numerous batsmen known for clearing the boundaries, the Lightning’s more accumulator heavy line up sees them drop back to level pegging with each of the other teams.
Injuries, availability, form changes and an element of luck throughout the season will determine who goes home with the silverware. If there is a prediction to feel confident in, it is that the team that wins will only have two more victories than the team that finishes fourth, and every team will take points off every other team over the course of the various festivals (if matches aren’t abandoned due to rain, of course).
It looks set to be a fun year in Irish domestic cricket.
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