There are few things that have survived the virus stronger, but Ireland’s first one-day international series against England is one of them. What was originally a three-match afterthought in the scrag end of September now becomes centre-stage in high summer.
Of course this is all at the behest of the Sky Gods, desperate to fill the schedules. But it does present a rare opportunity for Ireland’s cricketers to get some attention as the first national side to return to the fray post-lockdown.
It’s also Ireland’s first game in the new World Cup qualifier competition, although no-one is sure how that will pan out, given both the times we are in and the ICC’s penchant for kicking over the card table.
“There’s so much uncertainty”, admits skipper Andrew Balbirnie. “We don’t even know when we will play our next game.”
England are working with two squads at the moment, with six of their World Cup winners tied into the Test match bubble, but eight of those medallists will be in their 24-man squad for Southampton. Notably, of course, Eoin Morgan, but also Moeen Ali, Jonny Bairstow and Jason Roy.
Ford sees an opportunity here. “We’ve shown last year, in the ODI in Malahide and the Test at Lord’s, that we can give them a fright. But we want more than that, we want to be winners. It’s a potential banana skin for them and they’ll take a lot of flak if they lose. But there’s a few things we can work on, a few issues of ego.”
The sides have met ten times before in this format, and England lead 8-1 with one abandoned. The Irish ‘1’ of course, was that famous night in Bangalore at the 2011 World Cup when Kevin O’Brien conjured up an impossible victory. He’s still here, arguably batting better than ever and scoring a rare century in a competitive inter-squad game on Thursday night.
Balbirnie said: “Hat’s off, he spent lockdown getting fitter and he was really determined the other night, he played beautifully.”
Ford is looking beyond next week. “We’re looking to grow a unit to go toe-to-toe with the big teams. We want to be in the top echelon, so we have to be able to win against the big teams.”
But while England are missing the likes of Ben Stokes and Joe Root, Ireland too will be sweating that Paul Stirling, Mark Adair and Boyd Rankin will get over their respective niggles. The series, all day-night games, kicks off on Thursday at 2pm.