Ian Callender (Belfast Telegraph)
JAMES Shannon is the surprise name in Ireland’s squad of 15 for the World Cup qualifying tournament in Zimbabwe, named yesterday on the day that the new Test match shirt was unveiled.
The Northern Knights skipper has been in the international wilderness for almost five years, playing a solitary Twenty20 international in the interim and of his 13 Ireland appearances, only one has been in a one one-day international, when he was dismissed for two at No 7, against Pakistan in 2013.
But coach Graham Ford asked for an extra batsman in the party and although he has never seen Shannon in match action, his fellow selectors, under new chairman Andrew White, his club captain at Instonians this year, said he was the next cab off the rank, and it is a reward for his performances in last season’s inter-provincials.
Although he was top run scorer in both the 3-day and T20 competitions, he averaged just 28 in three 50-over innings but, having seen him at a practice session in Bready, Ford said “he has undoubted talent and this will be his chance to reproduce his form at international level”.
And it looks as if Shannon has a bright future, at the age of 27, as, along with Simi Singh, he has been given a full-time Category A contract.
Shannon gets his chance because Stuart Poynter, who played in this month’s tri-series in UAE, has asked to be left out of the tour as his partner is expecting their first child in March.
CIYMS leg spinner Jacob Mulder, the only squad member not to be involved in any of the four games in Dubai, has been left at home, losing out to Tim Murtagh who was always certain to return for the qualifiers, having been rested this month.
On Mulder, Ford said: “It’s a tough school and he is a work in progress. At this stage he cannot guarantee us 10 overs in a match, but he is not far away and his bowling is improving.”
With Andy McBrine returning to the side in the tri-series and ending up as the most economical bowler, one spinner was always going to lose out and Simi Singh keeps his place, alongside No 1 slow bowler George Dockrell.
Of the specialist batsmen, only first choice wicket-keeper Niall O’Brien averaged less than 30 in UAE and even he scored two half centuries, so they all picked themselves for the tournament which, if successful, will see Ireland reach their fourth successive World Cup finals.
On route to the qualifiers, the squad will play four matches in South Africa, against a Northern/Easterns XI on February 15, Netherlands three days later, Scotland on February 20 and Hong Kong on February 23 before two official warm-up games in Zimbabwe against the hosts on February 27 and Scotland two days later.
In the qualifying tournament, Ireland have been drawn in the same group as Netherlands, West Indies, Papua New Guinea and the winner of next month’s World Cricket League Division 2.
Ireland squad: W Porterfield (capt), A Balbirnie, P Chase, G Dockrell, E Joyce, A McBrine, B McCarthy, T Murtagh, K O’Brien, N O’Brien, B Rankin, J Shannon, S Singh, P Stirling, G Wilson.