Paul Stirling will be back in county cricket next season, after all, after being snapped up by Northamptonshire to play in the Vitality T20 Blast.
It was always likely that Stirling, a free agent after taking up a full-time contract with Ireland, rather than staying at Middlesex, would be in demand on the county circuit and his agent, former Ireland international Niall O’Brien, has persuaded his former county to take on last year’s leading run-scorer in T20 internationals.
“I’m thrilled to be playing for the (Northamptonshire) Steelbacks in this year’s Blast,” said Stirling. “Niall speaks very fondly of his time there and made a special mention of how superb the fans are.
“It’s a good wicket and the boundaries are small so I’m excited to entertain the people of Northampton.”
Stirling will not be available for every Steelbacks match but the county are happy that he should be able to play nine of their 14 group games and all the knock-out games if they reach the quarter-finals, due to be played in the middle of August.
The first group game is on May 29, which follows Ireland’s four T20 internationals against Bangladesh – those dates have still to be confirmed – but he will miss rounds eight. nine and 10 because they clash with the third T20 against New Zealand and the first ODI against the Kiwis.
Stirling will also miss Northants’ last two group games as he will be with the Ireland squad for the first T20I against Pakistan.
The Steelbacks will be looking to Stirling, who has scored 5,401 runs in 214 T20 matches – including over 2,000 in 75 internationals for Ireland at a strike rate of 140 – to improve their recent form in the Blast.
Although they won the competition for the second time in 2016, since then they have finished sixth, ninth and last year seventh in the nine-team North Group, winning four of their 10 completed games.
The man of the match in their surprise 2016 triumph was this year’s captain Josh Cobb, who knows Stirling well from their meetings on the county circuit over many years.
“Stirlo’s such a valuable player to have in your side in the shorter form,” said Cobb. “He’s got experience around the world and especially in England so I’m looking forward to him hopefully getting us off to a few flying starts.
After playing six games in the Caribbean last month, Stirling will be on the same side this time as West Indies white-ball captain Kieron Pollard who had already been confirmed as Northants’ other overseas professional in the Blast.
“Paul will dovetail with Pollard and be available down the road should we qualify for the quarters and beyond,” said Steelbacks head coach David Ripley. “A special thanks to Cricket Ireland for their assistance in allowing Paul to play a role for us.”
Meanwhile, North Down have appointed South African Irish passport holder Daniel Rose as their player coach for the new season.
The 23-year-old is a bowling all-rounder who has played for Wellington A and will join an exciting pace attack which already includes Ireland international Craig Young and professional Ruhan Pretorius.