It was no coincidence that Josh Little was at the heart of a good week for Ireland in the World Super League at Malahide. A share of the series points with South Africa was not expected, but Andrew Balbirnie’s side certainly deserved what they earned.

Little took four wickets, rocketing him to the top of the table for the global tournament with 18 scalps in nine games.

The 21-year old brings an intensity to his work that makes things happen.

“It is not a coincidence that he takes wickets in his first over”, says former Netherlands captain Peter Borren. “There are no looseners or warm-up deliveries.”

Little has an idiosyncratic style that has a beauty of its own. He shuffles at the start of the run before he flexes his left leg straight and settles into a fluent run. With his arms horizontal his approach is like an animal hunting prey; he sways in, reminiscent of the Kiwi legend Richard Hadlee, pouncing as he gets to the wicket and his jaws close on the batsman.

Always the showman, his successes are greeted with a playground Spitfire flypast as the batsman trudges off.

But more even than his high-octane bowling, it was his willingness to take on giants of the game that showed how this Irish side is on the way back.

“I like getting stuck in,” he grinned. “I don’t want them to be bullying me, I want to bully them. If you want to win games you’ve got to step up and not let these teams pat you back.”

Little has been an in-your-face performer since his very first ODI against England at Malahide two years ago. Eoin Morgan’s team won that one, but Little took 4-45, including the prize wicket of their captain to a fearsome bouncer.

He snapped at star players with many years more experience, and that feistiness carried on into the series last year after he dismissed Johnny Bairstow. He sent the England opener on his way with a mouthful, earning an ICC reprimand.

“I’ve always been a competitive guy,” Little admits. “I like being in those high pressure situations and I find I do best when I don’t back off – I like to get amongst it when I can. That’s just the way I go about my business.”

A clubmate suggested that Little is wired very differently to your typical Irish player. “We’d play a match on Saturday and we’d be all straight into the pints,” he said. “But Josh would be off to the gym to do more work. He wasn’t always that dedicated but he’s turned it around.”

He’s certainly followed an extraordinary route.

Aged 10, he was on his way to join YMCA when a pal, Sanil Gupta, suggested he try his club instead. He was instantly hooked, and enticed his two sisters Louise and Hannah to join too.

That proved quite the coup for Pembroke, as within a few short years they had three full Ireland internationals on their wall of fame.

His talent was spotted quickly. “I had only been at training a couple of times and didn’t know much about cricket at all”, he said. “Brían O’Rourke asked me down to Leinster Under 11 training and said, ‘you’ve got something here, stick with it.’”

O’Rourke recalls: “He always naturally athletic, had a quick arm action and a rhythmical and repeatable approach to the crease.”

Being a left-armer is a valuable skill in cricket, as Peter Borren explains: “Josh is unerringly accurate with his line. Traditional left-armers bring the ball back into the right-hander and away from the lefty. Josh, whilst not a huge swinger of the ball does the opposite. His movement is away from the right-hander.

“This isn’t something a lot of batters have faced. He is particularly dangerous therefore when he comes around the wicket to right-hand batters, angling the ball in and moving away. Batters feel forced to play on that angle.”

Little made swift progress with Pembroke and Leinster but, according to O’Rourke, it was a provincial tour to South Africa – aged 14 – that saw him commit to cricket above hockey, at which he was also capped underage.

Sister Louise was capped at 13, so by that standard Josh was a late developer – he was 16 when Ireland’s call came – but he is still the youngest to play a T20 for any full member.

There were a couple of seasons when he was making more waves off the field than on it, developing a reputation as Irish cricket’s wild child.

He acknowledges he made mistakes, including opting to spend three days at the Longitude music festival rather than turning out for his province. “Yeah, I skipped a Lightning three-dayer to go, which looking back was a bad decision. I can’t even remember the gig – I do remember that I didn’t enjoy that weekend at all.

“It wasn’t that I had lost interest in cricket – it was me being so young and put into such an intense environment I didn’t know if cricket was the right path to take so early. Should I have gone to college and waited for cricket? I didn’t know what cricket had in store for me so I hadn’t made my mind up at the time.”

Little is still big into music – UK and US rap mostly – but he’s not so keen anymore on festivals, which eat up summer weekends when he could be playing.

Things happen quickly in Little’s life – he and Harry Tector were once plucked from a Leinster Under 15 squad to join up with Ireland Under 19s – and he was capped by Ireland before he had played for his province. Was the step up a shock?

“I just went with it”, he says with a shrug. “I was still at school, enjoying going out with my friends, having nights out so it was all a bit of a shock to me and it took a while to get used to having to focus on cricket. But I eventually realised that I would have to take it seriously.

“Playing for Ireland first was definitely a bit of a wake-up call, telling me, ‘You are good enough for this’, so I decided to put the foot down and go for it.”

He established himself as an Ireland regular with a string of fine performances over the past year. But in a big week, his favourite Malahide memory was not with ball in hand. “It was Bally’s 100”, he insists. “That really sparked us all to go out and back that up, and not let the lads down who did so well up front. It was our first big win at home which made it special.”

Little is one of the lost generation who found the route to county cricket barred. It has probably hampered his progress but he is still upbeat about it: “Yeah, county cricket is something I’d like to do but the door is closed at the moment – there are still small opportunities but I’m just enjoying playing for Ireland at the moment.”

Little’s skillset could make him a highly-prized practitioner in the lucrative Twenty20 leagues in India and Australia.

“The combination of pace, consistent disciplined lines, left-arm angle and the rare ability to move the ball away off the seam make him very effective”, says Borren.

Another seasoned observer believes Little has what it takes to become Ireland’s first cricket superstar. “He has a higher ceiling than anyone else,” he says. “The sky really is the limit for him.”