Light at the end of the tunnel

There was some welcome fixture news confirmed last week when the UAE finally announced that they would be hosting Ireland in four ODI’s ahead of the crucial World Cup Super League games against Afghanistan.

While some are grumbling about playing four matches against Associate opposition, the importance of these games can’t be underestimated as the Irish emerge from a period where they have played just three games in ten months.

Given that they are notoriously slow starters, these matches will be crucial in blowing away the cobwebs ahead of the Afghan clashes. In fact I would go as far as to say there is a real chance for Ireland to secure a rare series win if they can hit the ground running and catch an Afghanistan side cold, given they have played even less, not playing an international game since a T20 series win against the Irish last March.

However, that’s not to say their players haven’t been in action, with five players currently in Australia playing in the Big Bash, including their much vaunted quartet of spinners – Rashid Khan, Mohammed Nabi, Zahir Khan and Mujeeb-ur-Rehman. The latter has endured a tough time in Australia though, having been hospitalized earlier this month with Covid-19 on his arrival in Queensland.

It’s never easy against Afghanistan and their battery of spinners, but the Sheikh Zayed Stadium has been a happy hunting ground for the Irish over the years, and while it may not be as seamer friendly as the Dubai International Stadium, there will be relief in the Irish camp they aren’t based in Sharjah which would have been a much tougher venue.

There was further good news that the games will be live-streamed and you can follow the action here too with CricketEurope’s ball-by-ball commentary and analysis. The first game is on January 8th, with the others against the UAE on 10th, 12th and 14th. The Afghan matches are set for January 18th, 21st and 23rd with start times for those set provisionally at 5am.

Board meeting

Cricket Ireland held a virtual Board meeting last week but very little official has emerged from their debate. Ian Callender did report that 2021 was poised to be a busy one with home international series against South Africa, Pakistan and Zimbabwe, as well as away series in UAE (as mentioned above), plus an additional series against the Afghans ahead of the T20 World Cup, as well as planned trips to Zimbabwe in March and The Netherlands on June 2, 4 and 7.

Certainly a packed schedule for Ireland Men, but what of the Wolves, Women and U19s?

Nothing concrete has emerged for the Wolves who amongst other fixtures were hoping to tour Bangladesh in February, as well as playing three matches in The Netherlands plus possible warm-ups against the touring Zimbabweans and hopefully one or two of the others.

It’s a World Cup qualifying year for the Irish U19s and a winter squad has been selected but due to covid, they haven’t been able to train together yet. Survivors from the 2019 squad include Tim Tector, Jamie Forbes and Nathan McGuire who will be travelling to Scotland for the qualifiers, hoping to seal the sole spot on offer for a trip to the West Indies in 2022.

Ireland opted not to bid to host either the u19 qualifiers or the Women’s Qualifiers which is also being held in Scotland. The Irish felt there was too much pressure/demand on their pitches and grounds given the amount of cricket for the international men’s team as well as the various domestic interprovincial competitions.

It’s a bad mistake in my opinion not to have bid to host at least one if not both of these events. Home comforts are a huge advantage in these tournaments and I feel we have missed a trick in not giving the U19s and Women a better chance by hosting.

Interpros

Likewise there hasn’t been any releases yet about the future directions of the interprovincial series for 2021. There is certainly a desire to have a’ best versus best’ format, which would mean a fourth side in the 50 overs competition would almost certainly be Leinster based players. Whether they play under a Leinster banner or a Munster one remains to be determined.

There has been talk that as a compromise the Munster T20 side would be composed mainly of locals with just a few strengtheners from outside, but at this stage it’s just speculation. There will be no fixtures or formats released until next month.

Incidentally the deadline for the two jobs advertised by Cricket Ireland for an Operations Director and a Coach Education Officer has been extended, which would suggest they aren’t happy with the calibre or volume of applications received thus far. Or maybe not!

Professionals

The sure sign that the season is less than four months away is the amount of clubs who have been announcing their overseas professionals for the campaign. The NW seem to be concentrating on South Africans, who in the current climate seem to be offering good value for money and easier to obtain the necessary permits/visas.

I have to confess being somewhat underwhelmed by the ‘names’ announced. I was brought up on real stars while those unveiled thus far have yet to set the pulses racing. They have youth on their side for the most part so hopefully I will be proved wrong as the season unfolds.

100 not out

There was a good news story in the Leinster section of the site this week with William Heron being congratulated by Leo Varadkar and Michael D.Higgins on reaching his 100th birthday this month. The Clonskeagh native won a Leinster Schools’ Cup medal with King’s School way back in 1937, and the school presented him with a special cap and yearbook to mark the landmark.

A real feel good story in what has been for the most part a year to forget.

Awards

I was planning to announce some awards this week but will now hold it over to next week in a special bonus edition.

Merry Christmas all and thanks again for all your support during the year.