Jun 9, 2020
- Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets at @mroller98
Andy Balbirnie, Ireland’s captain, is hopeful that his team’s three-match ODI series against England will go ahead in July after a “very reassuring” briefing from the ECB last week.
Ireland returned to training on Monday to begin their preparations for the tour, which is due to be played at the Ageas Bowl pending ratification from the ECB and approval from the relevant governments.
Balbirnie told ESPNcricinfo that he would be keeping a close eye on West Indies’ tour after their arrival in the UK on Tuesday, but that he was “desperately keen” for the ODI series to go ahead.
“I’ll be watching this West Indies series closely, following how they get on with training and the protocols for that,” Balbirnie said. “But as far as I’m concerned, I’m desperately keen to play.
“I’d be hopeful that all will go well with the West Indies series, and I think it will having heard what the ECB can do with the bio-secure facilities. It sounds really well-planned and well thought-out. The world will be watching this West Indies tour, but I’m looking forward to hopefully getting over at the end of July.”
Balbirnie and other Cricket Ireland representatives were briefed by the ECB at the end of last week about arrangements for the tour, which will see players stay on-site in the hotel at the Ageas Bowl with their interactions with the outside world minimised.
He has yet to speak to the squad as a whole as things stand – training sessions are being conducted in groups of four at three different locations – but is optimistic that all centrally-contracted players will be available to travel. He currently expects that Ireland will take a normal 15-man squad, but conversations are ongoing about the possibility of bringing additional reserves as net bowlers or back-ups.
“We’ll have the chat at some stage,” he said. “I know myself that I’m itching to play, and it’s not an eight-hour trip – you’re not going to a different continent.
“At the same time, you want to make sure everyone is on board: you’ve got to respect people’s decisions, and you don’t want to be going over with players who are tip-toeing around the place. You want to go over and win games of cricket.
“The ECB call was very reassuring because this is completely new to everyone. The way they pitched it to us was that this is completely under control, and the guys they have sorting it out are brilliant at their jobs.”
England are set to be without several World Cup winners for the series, with the expectation that they will name a completely separate squad to that used in the West Indies Tests, meaning that hopes have been raised of a first Irish ODI win over their local rivals since the 2011 World Cup.
Ireland’s home summer has already been mothballed, with Bangladesh, Pakistan and New Zealand agreeing to postpone their tours, and with the expectation that October’s T20 World Cup will be postponed, 50-over cricket will be the focus in training for the foreseeable future.
The series will also be the first in the qualification process for the 2023 World Cup through the new ODI Super League, and Balbirnie – who was appointed in November – said that he has been chatting to his team-mates over the weekend about the importance of getting the new cycle off to a strong start.
“It’s such an important cycle for us. I’ve come in as captain and my aim is to take us to the next World Cup in 2023. These are the first games in that cycle.
“Look, whoever England pick, they’re world champions – they’re going to have a vast number of good players to choose from. But we’re an experienced side ourselves and we’ve had some good successes this year in white-ball cricket. The guys will be champing at the bit to have a crack at them. If we can cause a couple of upsets, it’ll be a great few weeks for us.
“If we can come away with a win or two, that’ll set us up brilliantly and it’ll give the lads some confidence. In the T20 games when we beat West Indies and Afghanistan at the start of the year, the young guys we have coming into the squad, the confidence that they got from those results is contagious. If we can pick that run up in ODI cricket then we have an exciting few years ahead of us.
“With the first summer as captain [being cancelled], you’re gutted and disappointed. We’ve got some young players who would have benefitted greatly from this summer. But when you sit down and watch the news, you understand that it was the right thing to do.”
Balbirnie returned to his family home during lockdown to avoid being alone for the duration in his Dublin apartment, and admits that it came as a welcome break from the hectic nature of the international schedule and constant touring.
But by the time the opportunity to return to training came around, he was “sat looking at the clock waiting for about an hour”, excited by the prospects of seeing team-mates again – albeit from two metres away.
“I was like a kid at Christmas. It was surreal: I’m 29 years old, and I was running out the front door into my car. It’s just nice to have a bit of interaction with a few of the lads.
“On arrival it’s very different, having to get your temperature taken and wash your hands, but over the next couple of weeks we’ve got to train ourselves so that it becomes a habit. For me it’s about getting down to the basics again, getting my feet moving and retraining my mind. It’s all very basic staff, but it’s nice to have a schedule leading into – potentially – these England games.”