Ian Calender (Belfast Telegraph)
NINE months ago, Stuart Thompson was not in a good place on the cricket field. He had just played on 17 consecutive days for club, country and province and the prospect of another three for Ireland A in Ayr was all too much.
So he went into hibernation, took two months off and was reported by Cricket Ireland as having performance anxiety.
“I wasn’t enjoying cricket, plain and simple, and needed a break,” he told me yesterday as the Ireland all-rounder waited to hear if he would keep his place in the team to face Afghanistan in today’s first ODI of the five-match series in Greater Noida.
It proved to be an inspired decision.
“After a couple of months I realised the season was coming to an end and I didn’t want to miss a complete season so I got back into it straight away,” Thompson recalls.
“Thanks to Cricket Ireland the opportunity then came up to go to Australia and I couldn’t turn it down. I’ve always to spend a winter out there and the Darren Lehmann Academy provided the perfect platform to get back into my cricket.
“Training five days a week and playing at weekends was perfect to get into the high performance I missed with Ireland. My love for the game came back pretty quickly and after 10 weeks there I knew I wanted to get back into the Ireland set up as quickly as possible.”
The Ireland selectors continued to show faith in the 25-year-old from Eglinton and chose him for the Desert T20 tournament in January. An ankle injury in practice, however, ruled him out of that event but, in Thompson’s words “they stuck by me for this trip” and gave him a new role.
“Coming here I knew I would be opening the batting in the T20s. After I was selected for the Desert trip John (Bracewell, the Ireland coach) said ‘prepare to open’ so a lot of my focus when I was in Australia turned to that.
"So, I felt really prepared to open and faced the new ball in T20s last week."
The first game against Afghanistan was Thompson’s 50th international since his debut against the same opposition five years ago – his only previous game against Ireland’s main Associate rivals.
"I’d opened for the North West Warriors and really enjoy the role. You get full value for your shots, especially on this ground here and if you manage to hit it well you get your sixes. I enjoy the freedom of batting up top and there is real sense of purpose leading from the front.
“Knowing Paul (Stirling) is at the other end gives me massive freedom in my own game. He strikes at 160 in most games so that makes it easy if I face a couple of ‘dot’ balls.
But with Ed Joyce, Niall O’Brien and Andrew Balbirnie all expected to return to the side for the ODI series, Thompson doesn’t really know what lies ahead on this trip.
“It’s a change of format now and I don’t know where I’ll bat but I’ll always give it my best and hopefully I get a few longer spells with the ball in the 50-over games.” And he’s enjoying his cricket.