The Irish Interprovincial Competitions face an unusual new challenge when they return on Monday – that of mass player unavailability due to clashes with international fixtures.
In previous years Cricket Ireland have managed to balance international and domestic matches to ensure the best were always available, with the occasional exception of Paul Stirling jetting off to make short work of another T20 league’s bowlers.
This summer however, Ireland’s busy schedule of tours and qualifying tournaments have made fixture clashes inevitable. As a result, a new dimension will play a part in determining who takes home the coveted IP50 and IP20 silverware: who has the best bench.
This new situation will be tested in the very first game of the season, as Munster welcome the North West Warriors to the Mardyke for a List A fixture starting 24 hours after Ireland’s final ODI vs Bangladesh. Cricket Ireland will not be forcing the likes of Curtis Campher, Andy McBrine, Gareth Delany and Craig Young to make a rushed overnight journey from Chelmsford to Cork to play two fifty over matches in consecutive days, so Monday’s opener will see a string of new faces on both sides. Tuesday’s match between Leinster and the Northern Knights will be similarly impacted.
Leinster could struggle this year when forced to use an understrength side. Any team suddenly losing the likes of Balbirnie, Tucker, Dockrell, Harry Tector, Little and McCarthy from their XI would struggle to fill that void. The Lightning will be able to turn to a string of players with Interpro experience such as Cormac McLoughlin-Gavin, Greg Ford, and David O’Halloran, not to mention the veteran International with a point to prove, Simi Singh. The question will be whether these players can step up and take leading roles in the Leinster team and overcome the sudden absence of 342 ODI and 406 T20I caps.
When the Lightning have their full squad available, they will be a formidable force and it will be hard to see anyone stopping the rampaging form of Harry Tector, George Dockrell and Lorcan Tucker in that powerful middle order. Without their Ireland stars, hopes will rest on younger names, such as the highly rated Gavin Hoey and Tim Tector, both of whom will be aware that a few strong showings could accelerate their own Ireland call-ups.
Munster will have a much-changed bowling attack this season, losing both David Delany and Fionn Hand. They have acquired the services of Ben White, which seems an unusual move at first glance. Munster can now field both of Ireland’s current wrist spinners, White and Gareth Delany, as well as one of the most promising left-arm orthodox spinners in the country in Mike Frost. This spin heavy line up may be a bit of a gamble in Irish conditions, unless secret plans are underway to turn the Mardyke into a dustbowl.
Despite this, Munster look set for another strong season. There are only two members of their squad they seem certain to lose to Ireland duty (Campher and Delany), so they will feel confident of putting out a strong XI. Munster benefit from having a high number of fringe internationals in their squad. Players like Kane, Moor, Commins and White could easily miss out on Ireland call-ups at various points throughout the summer, leaving them available for Reds duty and keen to catch the selectors notice. On the youth front, Munster Heat won last year’s Emerging Interpros, suggesting that the Reds won’t be worrying about who they send out onto the field when Ireland are in action.
2022 was a year to forget for the Northern Knights, as they finished bottom of both IP50 and IP20 tables. They looked like a team with a lack of depth, which caused issues for them when injuries cropped up and Stirling was unavailable. This season their relative low number of centrally contracted players, with Stirling and Mark Adair the only two likely to be away for all Ireland games, could even the playing field for them. A lot will rest on their experienced Interpro regulars Ruhan Pretorius and Josh Manley, and depending on availability, their fringe internationals James McCollum, Neil Rock and Matthew Humphreys.
However, the Knights will also be hoping to see the benefits of the number of young players that picked up a lot of experience last year such as Cade Carmichael, Tom Mayes and Cian Robertson. Head Coach Simon Johnston described last year as a chance to bed these players in “a year early”, and he will be hoping that investment pays off in 2023.
North West Warriors
A small core of experienced campaigners surrounded by a string of fresh-faced youngsters has been the North West Warriors preferred method of team selection for a while now, so they may be well placed to weather the absences of their top stars like McBrine, Young and Hume. A track record of debuting promising players at a young age means that players such as 18-year-old Scott MacBeth will be stepping onto the field with Interpro experience under their belts already.
Much needed experience will be added by Michael Erlank, the South African overseas Pro for Eglinton CC, whose 145 First Class and 102 List A games in his native South Africa will be a valuable resource for the younger Warriors. Finally, internationals Shane Getkate and William McClintock will been keen to impress as they seek to force their way back into Ireland contention after more than a year without a call up for both.
A new degree of unpredictability has been introduced to the Interpros, in what promises to be a thrilling season. Assuming of course, that age old unpredictability behaves itself – the Irish weather.
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