THE Irish squad for their tour of West Indies in January is not due to be announced until next Tuesday but Cricket Ireland has wasted no time in confirming two decisions taken by the selectors at their meeting this week — Tim Murtagh will not be involved and Andrew Balbirnie will lead the T20 side.
Murtagh, as revealed in the Belfast Telegraph last month, will see out his playing career at Middlesex and although he was still eligible to play for Ireland until the start of the new season — when he would become an overseas player — the selectors have decided to prepare for the future without him and have not selected him for the three ODIs in Barbados and Grenada.
It means that Murtagh’s 97th and last international was, fittingly, the Lord’s Test match when on a memorable first morning he took 5-13 to put his name on the away team’s honours board at cricket’s Headquarters, as England were bowled out for 85.
When Graham Ford took up his post as Ireland coach last January, he said that he preferred the same captain in charge of all three formats, but with Gary Wilson leading the T20 squad to next year’s World Cup finals in Australia at last month’s qualifying tournament, it was expected he would keep the role for the next year.
However, while Wilson — Ireland’s third most capped player — was acknowledged for his experience and repeatedly lauded for having the respect of his team-mates, his form with the bat had taken a nosedive and at the qualifiers in UAE he scored only 33 runs in his four innings.
So the selectors took the decision to make the change now and Balbirnie will lead Ireland in the three T20 games against West Indies in Grenada and St Kitts.
Whether Wilson retains his place in the T20 squad will be announced next week but he is a certainty for the ODI squad at least with chairman of selectors Andrew White saying “he will remain an integral part of the international set-up as we continue to build this exciting group of young players”.
In his statement yesterday, Wilson said: “It was an absolute honour to captain Ireland. I’m very much looking forward to continuing as a player and working with Balbo in the future.”
Balbirnie led the tributes to Murtagh (38) who yesterday signed a two-year extension to his contract at Middlesex.
“In any team you play in, especially as captain, the value of having some experienced heads around the squad is invaluable. While I won’t have Tim to call on going forward, I’ve appreciated his support and advice in the past — and his sense of humour within the camp,” he said.
“He is the ideal sort of teammate you need on long tours or during hard-fought matches, and was a source of inspiration for many. His consistency week in, week out in all sorts of conditions was a huge part of some important wins. Indeed, the impact he has had on our young seam bowlers and their development cannot be underestimated.”
Murtagh finishes his Ireland career, which started in 2012, with 142 wickets at 25.5 and an economy rate of 3.96. His highest score was his 54 not out at No.11 in his second Test match against Afghanistan in March.