THE longest and most distinguished reign in Irish cricket ended yesterday when William Porterfield was replaced as Ireland’s Test and one-day international captain – truly the end of an era.
After 253 games in charge – longer than any other leader in Irish sport – Cricket Ireland persuaded the Donemana man that the time was right to hand over the reins to Andrew Balbirnie, six years his junior but still 175 appearances shy of Porterfield’s 298.
With a two-month break ahead of the first of at least 41 Ireland matches in 2020, it was the perfect time for a change at the top and Balbirnie is now also in pole position to assume the captaincy across all three formats - head coach Graham Ford’s preference – probably after next year’s T20 World Cup in Australia.
But Balbirnie knows it will be a hard act to follow and the Pembroke man, born three days after Christmas 1990, will also be 35 before he even threaten Porterfield’s longevity.
Thrust into the captaincy in 2008, after Trent Johnston’s shock – soon to be reversed – decision to quit one-day cricket, leading his country was never going to be a burden for Porterfield. He was always the FIC (Future Ireland Captain), having led his country at every age group from the Under 13s.
Barely 12 months after taking over, he was leading Ireland into the World T20 (as it was then known) in England, the first of seven successive global tournaments as captain, including the 2011 and 2015 ICC World Cups which included the famous victories over England in Bangalore and West Indies in Nelson, New Zealand.
His and Ireland’s most successful season was 2013 when he not only led Ireland to the Associate Treble of Intercontinental Cup, World Cricket League and World T20 qualifying success, but as opening batsman scored 1,073 runs at an average of 51, which included 112 in the ODI against England, in front of record 10,000 spectators at Malahide and 127 not out in a T20 game against the United States in Abu Dhabi.
Porterfield will always be remembered as Ireland’s first Test match captain – after they had been granted Full Member status in 2017 - but his personal highlight will be leading out Ireland at Lord’s last July for the historic Test match against England. It proved to be his last match as captain but what a way to go out.
Porterfield will be hoping it is not the end of his international career – he played only five more T20 games after losing the captaincy to his great friend Gary Wilson – although he averaged 20 in his 17 innings in 2019 and reached 50 only twice.
Balbirnie, who scored 1,314 runs at an average of 38 this year, said yesterday: “William has been an amazing leader on and off the field (but he) still has a huge role to play in this team going forward and I look forward to working with him over the next couple of year."
Although Balbirnie led Ireland at the 2010 Under-19 World Cup and Ireland Wolves, Ireland’s next ODI against West Indies in Barbados in January, will be the first time he has captained the senior side.
Chairman of Selectors Andrew White, in acknowledging Porterfield as “a remarkable captain” said there comes a time when the baton is handed over.
“We had identified the leadership potential in Andrew early on,” said White. “It is often said that the weight of captaincy can weigh heavy on some players but we believe Andrew is someone who has the instincts and resolve to carry that weight and excel.”