|Born||3 September 1990 Belfast|
|Educated||Belfast High School|
|Debut||6 March 2008 v United Arab Emirates at Abu Dhabi|
|Style||Right hand batsman, right arm off break bowler.|
|Teams||Cliftonville, Carrickfergus, Sunbury, Middlesex|
Paul Stirling has been described as "the hottest property in Irish cricket" and a "young man of prodigious talent." His pugnacious batting at the top of the order has often justified these claims while his off spin has gained praise from no less a critic than "Sir" Geoffrey Boycott, Paul's bowling evidently being ranked by the great man among the few which could not have been dominated by his "old mum with a rolling pin." He also kept wicket well in his earlier seasons as befits one who is now a reliable slip fielder.
Paul was an outstanding cricketer at Belfast High School - hitting, for example, three hundreds in the 2007 Cup - but also benefited greatly from his family background. His father Brian, while perhaps better known as a highly regarded rugby referee, was a good batsman who opened for the Irish Schools against Wales at The Mardyke in 1972, his first innings 23 being second top score for Ireland in the match, besides representing Ulster Town in the Guinness Cup, while Paul's brother Richard was an international at both U17 and U19 level and has had a distinguished career for Cliftonville and Carrickfergus. |
Paul's feats for Ireland at age group level, when he was frequently playing against those several years older than he was, were often staggering. Thus after showcasing his talents at U13, U15 and U17 levels between 2003 and 2006, he won selection for the U19 side in the European Championships in the latter year. Held in and around Belfast these matches were two day games and Paul seized the chance to show his ability in the longer form. Thus against Denmark at Osborne Park, he made 118 in the first innings, putting on 155 for the first wicket with Chris Dougherty (78) as Ireland posted 354-6. Though in a position to enforce the follow on, they did not do so and ran up a total of 202-1 in their second innings, Paul racing to an undefeated 115. Victory by 231 runs followed. Later in the tournament he made a second innings 99 run out against The Netherlands at Newforge, a match in which Dougherty scored 107 and 95. The following season was also to see some remarkable performances. Playing for the U23, when still only 17, against Scotland at Paisley, he set up a 116 runs win with a dominating 116 from 119 balls with 8 fours and 2 sixes as Ireland totalled 220-8, Kevin O'Brien's 38 was the next highest score. That same summer, in which Ireland were unbeaten at age group level, he hit a storming 86 balls 96 for the U17s against Scotland at Dundee with 15 fours and 2 sixes.
Four other innings may be mentioned here. In the qualifying tournament for the 2010 U19 World Cup, played in Toronto he made two centuries. Against The Netherlands he led off with 102 from 117 balls at No 3, hitting 112 fours and 1 six to set up a win by 75 runs. Then in the last qualifier he hit an astonishing 164 against Vanuatu as Ireland charged to 373-5 off 50 overs. He faced 128 balls, of which 17 went to the boundary and 7 over it. In the World Cup itself, played in New Zealand in January 2010, he hit a "quite brilliant" 114 against USA from 102 balls with 12 fours and 1 six. Ireland also gained a victory over full ICC member country Zimbabwe, passing a total of 102 with 5 wickets in a D/L finish. In his element Paul struck a 50 ball 65 with 7 fours and 1 six.
Paul has been seen all too little in Irish domestic cricket as he was given a Middlesex summer contract while still at school. This led to some fine performances for the County in the U17 County Cup, appearing in the same side as Stuart Poynter. A top score of 38 helped them to a narrow 4 runs victory over Somerset in a group match in 2008, while in the Semi Final against Surrey he helped Middlesex to an impressive 262-3 with a typically robust 83, taking part in a 3rd wicket stand of 183 with Ajay Soni. To return to NCU cricket his outstanding performance was for Carrickfergus in his first season with them, 2009. Coming in at 3 in a home match against Ballymena, he destroyed the visitors' attack, hammering his way to 150 off 109 balls with 17 fours and 6 sixes. Adding 192 for the second wicket with captain Andy Cowden, he ensured that Carrick posted an impregnable total. One of his best innings for his first club Cliftonville, had come in the Ulster Shield Final two years earlier when his undefeated 87, easily the top score in a match in which many batsmen struggled, set up an 87 runs victory.
Paul's club cricket career has been continued in England, most recently for Sunbury, a strong side in the Surrey Championship Premier League. At times this team features no fewer than three Irish internationals, Paul being joined by Stuart Poynter, a regular at No 4 and behind the stumps, as well as Andrew Balbirnie. All three have produced some memorable cricket. Paul began the 2010 season with a barnstorming 46 from 27 balls against Cobham Arrovians. Made from 46 balls this cameo included 3 fours and 4 sixes! He was in the same vein against Malden Wanderers in the next match, racing to 92 from 64 balls with 13 fours and 3 sixes, before being third out at 155. With Poynter dominating the remainder of the innings, Sunbury totalled 294 and won by 188 runs.
The following summer Paul was in fine all round form against Reigate Priory. Opening the innings, as he usually does for the club, he made 67 as his side totalled 321, and then took 3-38 with his accurate off spin. He followed this with 87 in a win over Banstead but reserved his most telling performance of the season for the match with Guildford on the opposition's attractive sun trap ground. Here he came in at 21-3 as Sunbury chased 155 to win. He immediately lost Poynter - 21-4 - but then took charge, smashing his way to 75 from 43 balls with 6 fours and 3 sixes. He was out at 92-6 but Sunbury went on to win by 2 wickets. Paul played only three Premier League matches for Sunbury in the 2012 season, his best performance coming as a fielder and bowler in an away match against New Malden. After holding three slip catches, he came on to bowl late in the innings and quickly wrapped things up, returning the figures of 5-1-10-4. The hosts were dismissed for 124 which led to a Sunbury victory.
He has also produced some notable performances for Middlesex. Thus in a Second XI Championship match against Essex in May 2011, he came in at the fall of the third wicket and proceeded to take the hosts' attack apart, making 101 from 109 balls with 15 fours. However Essex went on to win a high scoring match by 4 wickets. Paul was on the winning side in a big run chase against Glamorgan Seconds at Radlett later in the summer, when he helped Dan Housego (158*) chase down a total of 366 with an impressive 64* from 50 balls, with 10 fours and 2 sixes, dominating an unbroken 6th wicket stand of 103. A pre-season friendly that year had seen a remarkable innings against Hertfordshire in a 40 over match. Opening the innings with Adam Rossington, Paul hit a 105 balls 149, with 19 fours and 4 sixes, the first wicket partnership realising 261.
Apart from friendlies, his 1st XI appearances have so far (by the end of the 2012 season) been limited to List A and T20 matches. In the T20 last (2011) season, he several times set the innings off to a racing start at No 1, never more so than against Kent at Lord's, when the visitors, with England Lion Joe Denly (61) leading the way, reached 147-3. Rain then intervened but Paul successfully led the victory charge as Middlesex got to their D/L target finishing on 79-1 from 8 overs. Man of the Match, Paul made a blistering 51* from 23 balls, hitting 5 fours and 4 sixes. Denly has now joined Middlesex! He hit two 50s in the 2012 competition when his appearances were restricted by injury. Against Hampshire at Southampton he came in at 14-1 and, when he was dismissed at 135-4 had faced 49 balls and made 71 with 8 fours and 2 sixes, a strike rate of 144.00. In the return match at Lord's he opened the batting and was undefeated on 82 at the end of the innings. He had faced 64 balls, hitting 7 fours and 3 sixes.
He has both batted and bowled impressively in the CB 40 Competition. With the ball, his bowling has usually been tight and difficult to get away, while with the bat, besides two fifties, both made against Yorkshire last season, that at Lord's being described in Wisden as "exuberant", he has one century to his credit. This came against Derbyshire at Queen's Park Chesterfield last August, Paul clearly being unphased by the ducks which have a habit of wandering across the outfield from the neighbouring lake. Facing 81 balls, he made 109 with 6 fours and 6 sixes. Wisden reported "Paul Stirling's first century in county cricket..... proved too much for Derbyshire. He reached it in 75 balls with a six over the sightscreen and perished attempting a seventh six." Middlesex won by 34 runs.
In last (2012) season's CB 40 matches his best bowling figures were 4-27 against the Netherlands at Voorburg including that of Cameron Borgas, former Australia U19 batsman. However his outstanding performance came as a batsman at Lord's against Lancashire. He hit a magnificent 119 from 99 balls with 12 fours and 5 sixes. The match was put totally out of the Red Rose county's reach by his partner in a 3rd wicket stand of 126, Eoin Morgan, at his devestating best, powering his way to 116.
In his 111 matches for Ireland to date (November 2012) Paul has scored 3383 runs at 30.21 with 6 hundreds and 18 fifties. He also hit one century for Ireland in a non-cap match. The highest of his six centuries thus far is his blistering 177 in an ODI against Canada at Toronto in September 2010 when he reached his total off 134 balls with 21 fours and 5 sixes. At one time he appeared likely to become only the second player after Sachin Tendulkar to make an ODI double century, but he was eventually out to a "dolly catch." He had been dropped at long leg on 14! Tendulkar's record has since been eclipsed by Virender Sehwag. Perhaps Paul's best hundred for Ireland came against the full Pakistan ODI attack at Stormont in May of last year. This was the second of two matches, Ireland having been overpowered in the first. Now thanks to Paul's Man of the Match performance they reached 238-8, the mysteries of Saeed Ajmal's doosra preventing a higher total. Paul reached his hundred off 94 balls and in all faced 109 deliveries, hitting 7 fours and "two huge sixes", both of which saw the ball disappear over mid-wicket. Pakistan went on to a 5 wicket victory.
His three other hundreds that year were also noteworthy. A brilliant 101 in the World Cup against The Netherlands ensured a good win for Ireland as they chased down a Dutch score of 306 to win by 5 wickets at Eden Gardens, Kolkata. Putting on 177 for the first wicket with William Porterfield, Paul's 100 came off 70 balls. All told he faced 72, hitting 14 fours and 2 sixes in making what Wisden termed "a pulsating hundred." He also, had a brilliant 113 against Scotland at Raeburn Place, unfortunately in a losing cause, as the hosts chased down a formidable looking Irish total. At the end of the season the Canadian attack again came in for some rough treatment at Paul's hands as he hit a dashing 107 setting up Ireland's innings Intercontinental Cup win.
We have left until last his first century for Ireland, a highly praised innings against Kenya in a drawn Intercontinental Cup match at Eglinton. Eventually the only winner was the Eglinton wicket but Paul showed great maturity in making exactly 100 in Ireland's first innings 404. Putting on 182 for the first wicket with Jeremy Bray his runs came off 181 balls with 13 fours and 1 six. Typically it was the latter stroke that brought him to three figures! It was a huge blow over mid-wicket, but he had shown a full range of strokes during his time at the wicket.
No review of his batting would be complete without some comment on his remarkable contribution to Ireland's T20 triumph in the World Cup Qualifiers earlier this year. This was particularly evident on the last day of the tournament when he hit half centuries against first Namibia then in the Final a superb one against Afghanistan. His 59* in the former match was made in pursuit of a mere 94 target, but the Afghans made a challenging 152-7 and soon removed Ed Joyce and Porterfield. However Paul found a good partner in Gary Wilson and proceeded to destroy the opposition attack. When he was third out at 113, he had made 79 from 38 balls with 9 fours and 3 sixes. Wilson and Andrew Poynter then ensured that Paul's innings was not wasted.
Injury deprived not only Middlesex but also Ireland of Paul's services for much of 2012, but he was still deservedely chosen as the RSA Ireland Player of the Year. He showed the power of his stroke play in the brief amount of cricket seen at Stormont in the Australian match when, having watched form the other end as Brett Lee removed William Porterfield and Ed Joyce with the first and third balls of the innings, he then unleashed some magnificent shots against Ben Hilfenhaus and Pat Cummings and reached 24 from 27 balls, before the latter had him brilliantly caught by Michael Clarke. Then came the monsoons.
He also led the way in the Intercontinental Cup Match with Afghanistan at Rathmines, another game which rain all but destroyed as a contest. Having bowled the visitors out for 84 when play eventually Ireland needed positive batting and Paul provided it. Having had the lion's share of an opening stand of 49 with Andy Balbirnie, he went to 42 out of 64 before he was dismissed, having faced 64 balls and hit 6 fours and 1 six. He had paved the way for the Gary Wilson / Andrew White partnership to take Ireland to what, had time allowed, would have been a winning total.
He was again to the fore against Bangladesh in a T20 World Cup warm up match in Sri Lanka, just before the tournament proper began. Here he played a devastating knock. Attacking the bowling from the start he raced to 71 off 41 balls hitting 5 fours and 5 sixes. He was particularly severe on off spinner Mahmudullah, taking 24 off his solitaty over with 3 consecutive 6s. He was eventually out to slow left armer Sunny having put Ireland into what proved to be a winning position.
His off spin bowling has also proved useful, winning him one Man of the Match award v The Netherlands in the 2010 World Cricket League.
Paul Richard Stirling has already achieved a great deal during his career. Future possibilities appear boundless. It is very much to be hoped that if and when the siren voices of Andy Flower and Geoff Miller come calling - as many critics have already suggested that they should at T 20 level as soon as he qualifies for England - Irish Cricket is able to persuade him to turn a deaf ear to their blandishments.
Edward Liddle, May 2012, updated November 2012
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