|Born||28 December 1990, Dublin|
|Education||St Andrew's College, Dublin; University of Wales Institute, Cardiff (UWIC)|
|Debut||5 July 2010 v Scotland at VOC Vorburg|
|Style||Right Hand Batsman, Off Break Bowler, Occasional Wicket Keeper|
|Teams||Pembroke, MCC Young Cricketers, Middlesex, Sunbury, North Middlesex, Cardiff MCC University, Randwick Petersham.|
Andy Balbirnie is a very good - and technically very correct - upper order right hand batsman. He is also a useful off spinner, an excellent fieldsman and a wicket keeper good enough to have kept in Second XI County Championship cricket. Always encouraged by his family to play the game - and followed into Pembroke's senior ranks by his two younger brothers - Andy developed his cricket skills not only at Sydney Parade, but also across the City at St Andrew's, a school with a fine cricket tradition and record. It was a matter of great regret to cricket enthusiasts - not just those in Ireland - when a hip injury caused him to miss the entire 2016 season. This also caused Middlesex to decide not to offer him a new contract, a decision which the County's Director of Cricket, Angus Fraser did not take lightly. "Gus", always a friend of Irish Cricket, which is, - it has been claimed - more than can be said for some of his counterparts in the Championship, is a great admirer of Andy's batting and attitude to the game. His good wishes were genuine. |
Andy played for Pembroke teams from an early age and was soon to find his place in Ireland's age group sides, playing for each one from U13 to U19, debuting as a 12 year old in the 2003 U13 European Championships. In that tournament, batting at No 4, he gave clear signs of what was to come. For example against Scotland he made stylish 38* before holding two catches and getting a run out to help an Irish side led by Jamie Shannon and containing several other names for the future, to a well-deserved 24 runs victory.
He also shone at Interprovincial level that season making 74 against Munster who also suffered from the power of his stroke making in the U 15 tournament in 2005, when, well supported by Richard Forrest (50*) he made an undefeated 120, setting up victory by 113 runs.
He captained the U17 national side in the 2007 European competition which was a series of 2 day matches all of which were drawn. Against the Netherlands he made fine 104 in the second innings, Ben Ackland and Paul Stirling having been equally destructive in the first. Andy also made 82 against Denmark and, in a drawn interpro against Ulster hit a first innings 117 in an exciting match which saw Leinster finish 43 runs short of their target with 3 wickets standing.
By 2009, he was leading a strong Irish side in the U19 European Championships in Jersey. Ireland won the competition to go through to the World Cup Qualifiers in Canada. Andy was in good form throughout, for example a fine all round performance against the hosts saw him make 52* as well as taking 3-15 to contribute largely to a D/L victory. He also led by example in Canada with 102 and 3-45 against Afghanistan and a classy 70* in a 93 runs victory over Hong Kong. He thus contributed largely to Ireland winning the tournament. Unfortunately he did little in the Finals in New Zealand, his best score being 20* in the Plate Quarter Final win over Zimbabwe. However his leadership won praise from the critics.
Andy became a regular member of the Pembroke senior side in 2005 when still only 14. His considerable achievements for the Sydney Parade team would undoubtedly be far greater had he not decided to both pursue a professional career and complete his education "over the water." However he has still managed to produce some outstanding performances. Thus in 2009 - a dismal season for the club - he played several fine innings even attracting praise from Stu Daultrey, an achievement in itself! One such knock came against Leinster at home at the end of June, when, batting first the hosts were dismissed for 185. Andy dominated the innings with a superb 111, the next highest score - and the only other one to reach double figures - was Graham McDonnell's 24. Leinster went on to win by 6 wickets. In the 2011 season he played in 8 matches and, with an average of 68.17 clearly showed what Pembroke were missing. Besides two fifties he also hit a brilliant hundred against North County, never an easy attack to "take to the cleaners." Coming in at19-1 he powered his way to an undefeated 144, as his side reached 274-3 before going on to a satisfying 174 runs victory.
He has also been all too rarely seen in interprovincial matches. However he played in all four 50 over games in 2014 averaging 68.67, thanks to two impressive innings against North West Warriors. At Milverton in early May the visitors ran up an imposing 284-5 with Andy taking a wicket and getting a run out. Then, opening the hosts innings, he lost partners rapidly until joined by Kevin O'Brien at 40-4. They put on 187 before O'Brien was run out for a typically robust 98. When rain intervened at 254-7, leaving the Lightnings D/L winners, Andy was 103* at a run a ball with 13 fours and 2 sixes.
The "Vera Duckworth System" as Matthew Maynard once called it was in evidence again when the two sides met at Strabane Park in August, but nothing could distract from Andy's 88 made from 98 balls with 7 fours and 2 sixes, which enabled the visitors to reach 158-5 before the rain came. On resumption the target of 215 was too much for the Warriors who went down by 47 runs, Andy taking 2-27.
From 2010 most of Andy's cricket has been played in England and Wales. In the County Second XI Championship and one day competitions e appeared first for MCC Young Cricketers and from 2011 for Middlesex. Also while studying Sports Coaching at UWIC he played for Cardiff MCC University. Additionally he appeared in both the Surrey and Middlesex Premier Leagues. It is to these latter two competitions that we now turn.
In the Surrey League he played for Sunbury from 2010 - 2013, a side which included Stuart Poynter and was led by Ollie Roland - Jones, brother of Toby the hat trick hero of Middlesex's dramatic title winning victory over Yorkshire in the 2016 County Championship. Andy had several excellent innings for Sunbury, including a dashing 131 against Reigate Priory - always a strong side - when he faced 118 balls, hitting 18 fours and 2 sixes. He added 145 for the 7th wicket with David Nash, the former Middlesex wicket keeper, who was playing just as a batsman with Andy "wearing the gauntlets." He played several matches for North Middlesex in 2014, hitting a valuable, hard earned 54 against Finchley to take his side to 94-2 before rain intervened.
Though he had some good innings for MCCYC, he was more successful for Middlesex Seconds, in all three formats from 2011. His most memorable innings was undoubtedly that against Glamorgan at Radlett in 2015 when he and Paul Stirling put on a record 388 for the Second Wicket sending Middlesex to a massive 697-8 declared Paul made 254 (241 balls, 36 fours and 2 sixes) but Andy was not far behind. Facing 259 balls he hit 27 fours 1 six in his 205. However this was far from being his only notable Championship innings. Apart from two scores of 96 he made 106* from 113 balls (13 fours, 2 sixes) against a Gloucestershire attack that included Kevin O' Brien. He put on an unbroken 195 for the 4th wicket with Dan Housego, who later gained a Gloucestershire contract. Andy also hit two hundreds in the 50 over Trophy matches. The higher of these two came against Kent in a match reduced to 40 overs a side by rain. Put in Middlesex totalled 303-5 with Andy undefeated on 110 from 64 balls, having hit 16 fours and 1 six. Middlesex went on to win by 15 runs. His best T20 score came in the 2013 Final against Surrey at Arundel, scene of Ireland's first win over a county side in 1977. Surrey made 169-7 just beating Middlesex 163-8 to the title. The defining moment came when Andy, having made 81 from 49 balls with 10 fours and 1 six, was run out.
He also played two first class matches for the County but, unfortunately was unsuccessful in both. His Championship debut came against Surrey at The Oval in August 2012. The visitors lost a closely contested match by 8 runs, the Surrey spin attack of Gareth Batty and Murali Kartik holding sway. Andy, leg before to Batty for 14 in the first innings, fell in the same manner to Kartik in the second for 3. He also played against Oxford in The Parks in 2015. He was out for 5 in his only innings in a match in which the students provided unexpectedly tough opposition, Andy being not alone in failing to make runs.
He was also prominent in all formats for Cardiff in the various University tournaments, besides leading the side in 2012, a role which he also filled on occasions for Middlesex. He was more successful than most of his team-mates in matches against County 1st XIs and often dominated the two day MCC Universities Championship matches. For example when Cardiff were put in by Cambridge at Fenners In 2011 and totalled 406-9, Andy led the way with 151, putting on 190 for the 3rd wicket with Hanza Siddique who played several matches for Derbyshire before abandoning cricket for acting and has been seen in the BBC Soap Doctors. The match was drawn as was one with Leeds/ Bradford in which Andy made a resolute 119 from 197 balls with `7 fours.
In all matches for Ireland A, Andy has scored 1201 runs at 33.30 with 3 hundreds and 6 fifties. His aggregate is, at the time of writing. October 2016 - the highest recorded in such matches while his 148* is second only to Eoin Morgan's 198* at Dubai in 1998. Only Stirling has also hit 3 Ireland A hundreds. Andy's 148* came in a remarkable match with an inexperienced Gloucestershire 2nd XI at Bath in 2012. Gloucestershire who, having declined to enforce the follow on set Ireland 414 to win and reduced them to 98-3 before Andy and Stuart Thompson came together to add 178. Stuart was out for 93 but Andy carried on to see Ireland to a 5 wickets victory. He faced 201 balls, batting 271 minutes to hit 19 fours. He also hit a quick-fire 108* during Ireland's fortnight training camp in Sri Lanka early in 2014 when he and Chris Dougherty formed a formidable opening pair. They were also to the fore against a very weak MCC side in Malahide in June of that year, putting on 236 to win by 10 wickets, Andy making 140 and Chris 82.
In all matches for the full national side Andy has scored (by October 2016) 993 runs at 24.83 with 1 hundred and 2 fifties. The century was, perhaps, the most remarkable innings of his career to date. Played against a powerful New Zealand A side at Dubai in late November 2014 it sealed his place in the squad for the World Cup. The Black Caps posted 252 all out and Ireland were 33-1 when Andy came in. He proceeded to make a breath taking 129 from 96 balls with 21 fours and 2 sixes before being bowled by Neil McCullum. He blocked his first three balls, then hit the next six for four. His hundred came from 71 balls including 17 fours and 2 sixes. The target was reached in the 44th over, Niall O'Brien having contributed a belligerent 68.
In the World Cup "Down Under" in the early months of 2015, Andy played two memorable innings, though one was in a losing cause. This was against South Africa who, aided by some crucial missed catches, posted a vast 411-4 and then bowled Ireland out for 210, a score which owed much to a defiant stand between Andy and Kevin O'Brien. The former made a highly praised 58 from 71 balls before being bowled going for a big shot against Morne Morkel.
However his key innings came in the nail biting win over Zimbabwe. Coming in at 79-2 he added 138 for the 3rd wicket with Ed Joyce who was at his fluent best making 112. Andy progressed to 97 from 79 balls with 7 fours and 4 sixes before he ran himself out trying to keep the strike. It was a superb innings taking Ireland to their record World Cup score of 331-8 and setting up the eventual pulsating victory.
It is greatly to be hoped that having put his serious hip injury behind him, and now playing in the tough world of Sydney First Grade cricket, Andy will become a permanent fixture in the Irish batting line up. His innings against Zimbabwe caused one - non Irish - observer to write of him as a future Test player, suggesting that he would follow Eoin Morgan into English ranks. Let us hope that Andrew Balbirnie does indeed go on to play in many Test Matches, but for his native - not adopted - country.
Edward Liddle, October 2016
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