Ian Callender (Belfast Telegraph)
As the Ireland players practised in the nets - or sat around after they had finished - on the eve of their T20 World Cup qualifying semi-final against Netherlands last month, a lone runner, with headphones, was doing laps of the Dubai Cricket Academy pitch.
The runner was Andrew Balbirnie, as ever doing the extra mile, literally, with a dedication which has, for the last two years, made him Ireland's No.3 batsman in every format, and last week rewarded him with the captaincy of the Test and one-day international sides.
Now it's the 28-year-old Dubliner's task to get the rest of the squad to follow his lead and turn Ireland into a competitive side on the world stage - the first Ireland skipper to be appointed since receiving Test status last year. And what a year lies ahead, starting in Barbados in January.
"The amount of cricket we will be playing will be tough, we are playing the best teams in the world, but it's a challenge for me, a great challenge for the squad," said Balbirnie.
"To look down at a fixture list which involves three ODIs against England away, New Zealand at home, West Indies in the Caribbean, it's so exciting and I hope everyone realises how fortunate we are to do this day in day out."
Balbirnie revealed he had been earmarked for the captaincy more than two years ago.
"It was during the John Bracewell era and I was told that it might happen in the future, it may be me, not it will be me. But it was a case of learning how to deal with things better, learning off the senior players at the time, Ed Joyce, John Mooney, Niall O'Brien and Purdy (William Porterfield)," he said.
"Time will tell (if the captaincy affects me) but batting has always been my bread and butter. That's now in a good place but I don't want to get complacent, I will continue to work hard, and the captaincy will make me work harder, whether in the gym or in the nets, and hopefully others will follow."
He expects Porterfield, the only senior captain he has known in his first 64 ODIs and three Tests, to be still in the side for the West Indies tour and will have no problem taking advice from him and the other senior players who have played many more internationals.
"Purdy still has so much to give leading the batting group. He has been such an important player, not just as captain, but has led from the front for so many years, and I don't see why he won't lead the batting going into the Caribbean.
"It would be stupid and naive not to take advice. William, Kevin (O'Brien), Paul (Stirling) and Gary (Wilson) are all smart cricketers and, while the final decision will be mine, we are going to play so many games in different conditions it would be stupid not to pick their brains because they have so much experience."
Although he has never captained the senior side, Balbirnie led Ireland Under-19 World Cup in 2010 and, more recently, the Wolves side in Bangladesh.
“I enjoyed the responsibility dealing with different players and how they go about preparation and working with the coaches,” he said. It’s the same with the batting, I enjoy the responsibility of No 3 in all formats. I haven’t captained the senior team so once the first game comes it will be a different sort of pressure but I’m just looking forward to having a crack at it."
For now, Wilson retains the T20 captaincy and Balbirnie is quite content to let him continue. "I was asked to do the captaincy in these two formats," he says.
"Gary has done a great job with that team, he has led us to a World Cup and taken us up the rankings. I haven't even captained the team yet so let's get that first game in Barbados out of the way and take it from there.
"I grew up playing in Irish teams and, when you crossed the white line, you fought for your life to put in performances for Ireland, and if I can instill that in the young guys coming into the squad then results will come."
And, unsurprisingly, Balbirnie acknowledges the importance of Wolves tours in bringing through the next generation.
“Everyone is aware of the talent coming through and there are guys putting in strong performances. Guys will retire in the next two to three years so we have to guys coming into those positions ready to play at that level. That’s why the Wolves tours are so important as they allow guys to go away and play top quality cricket so that when they do come in they can fill the shoes with confidence.”