Andrew Balbirnie (c), Mark Adair, Curtis Campher, Gareth Delany, George Dockrell, Graham Hume, Josh Little, Andy McBrine, Barry McCarthy, PJ Moor, Paul Stirling, Harry Tector, Lorcan Tucker, Ben White, Craig Young
Sixteen days: That’s the amount of time between Ireland’s competitive games in June. A Test match in England, then an ODI in Zimbabwe. Not much time in between, but such is the nature of the modern cricket calendar.
There had been much talk about how Ireland weren’t treating Test cricket in Lord’s as a “pinnacle” event. Perhaps sticking up two fingers at the time honoured format.
According to Performance Director of Cricket Ireland, Richard Holdsworth all eyes would be on the ultra-competitive ODI World Cup Qualifier in Zimbabwe. This was when they would be fighting it out Battle Royale-style to reach another of the ICC’s pinnacle (there’s that word) events.
A lot of pinnacle events in the calendar. Test match at Lords outside the World Test Championship? Someone outside cricket might even call it a friendly. The dreaded f-word.
But it’s onto Bulawayo where it gets super-serious. And one man who wasn’t present in Lord’s will be crucial: Josh Little.
For someone who was rested, the Gujarat Titan was suddenly talked about everywhere. Better to be talked about? It goes without saying, he is huge for Ireland. The ultimate tragedy might have been Little coming to Lord’s from the IPL final with not enough bowling loads under his belt and perhaps picking up a niggle or a strain.
However some who did put in the hard yards in Lord’s will also be just as crucial. The batting enfant terrible, Harry Tector – who has just been announced as the ICC’s Men’s Player of the Month.
The all-rounders Mark Adair and Andy McBrine who were both extremely unfortunate not to get Test hundreds at the home of cricket will be just as important.
Adair’s reduction in pace at Lords looked very noticeable compared to the 2019 edition of this fixture. However he has adapted with slower balls and other white ball tricks that will certainly be handy in Zimbabwe should the pitches grip.
It goes without saying that an in-form Paul Stirling is a major part of Ireland making it through the Qualifier. Andrew Balbirnie too. However other team members stepping up means there’s less pressure on some of Ireland’s leading performers. Curtis Campher and Lorcan Tucker both gave hints of what they could deliver during the one-off Test in England.
Others who didn’t feature who’ll prove important? Gareth Delany with his leg-spin. George Dockrell’s hitting at the death plays a major role and throw in some useful overs of left arm spin to add even more value.
Barry McCarthy’s strike bowling capability is huge in white-ball cricket. And suddenly Ireland have a few different options and points of attack up their sleeve to tackle what’s coming.
The squad however will be without spin coach Nathan Hauritz who has been released and allowed travel back home to Australia for family reasons. Hauritz had played an important part in Ireland’s plans during the T20 World Cup in Australia, and surely will be missed during these extremely important games on wickets that should take spin.
Hauritz had also done a lot of work with George Dockrell whose bowling has improved of late, even if not near his earlier promise. Cobus Pienaar has been added to the coaching team to support the squad.
Ireland find themselves in a mixed up calendar. But so is everyone else. Resting Josh Little for the test against England showed just how challenging the calendar has become, with the tug of war between international and franchise cricket.
New Zealand similarly have issues with how to fit another left arm quick Trent Boult into their World Cup plans. But they seem to read from the same hymn sheet, if not close enough. Cricket Ireland however appeared to struggle with clearly communicating their goals and dealing with the not so easy questions. They need to focus.
Now Ireland find themselves in familiar territory. White ball in hand. Backs to the wall. Qualification on the line. Pressure mounting. This is where muscle memory starts to trigger. They’ve been here before. They’ve missed out before. But they know exactly what to do.
The expected? Harry Tector to make runs at some point. Throughout the ODI Super League, it just sort of felt inevitable? Now is no different.
The unexpected? Off spinning allrounder Andy McBrine to make runs as an opener. Christened the “pinch blocker” by Jarrod Kimber after a successful stint at three against the West Indies, it looks like management have something in mind after using him to open in both warm up games. Plus he looked pretty good flaying England’s test attack, just over a fortnight ago.
Possible Ireland XI against Oman on June 19th: 1. Andy McBrine 2. Paul Stirling 3. Andrew Balbirnie (captain) 4. Harry Tector 5. Lorcan Tucker (wicket keeper) 6. Curtis Campher 7. George Dockrell 8. Gareth Delaney 9. Mark Adair 10. Barry McCarthy 11. Josh Little
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