HERE we are, barely half-way through April and the sensible Irish cricket community still keeping their loins girded ahead of the opening of the season.

It’s a bit different on the other island, however, where there have been dozens of games to get the Irish squad members tuned up for the summer – of course those who played at the World Cup hardly need tuning up.

There used to be a novelty fixture played in Rush every St Patrick’s Day, when the chilly wind whipped in off the Irish Sea and “drinks” intervals saw a tureen of soup carried to the wicket. This year it was astonishing to see some English counties starting their pre-season action before then – and in Canterbury, not Abu Dhabi.

Tim Murtagh was desperately unlucky to miss out on the World Cup but hit the ground running for Middlesex in UAE, returning 7-2-24-1 against Worcestershire. He was back home and in action again in a pair of friendlies against Essex in late March. He took 1-7 off ten overs – that would have been pretty useful against Pakistan in Adelaide – and 0-11 in the second game.

Those Chelmsford games were followed by a T20 which Murtagh sat out, but Paul Stirling came in and made 22.

The rest of the World Cup squad were given a short break by their counties, but William Porterfield turned out in a couple of T20s against Derbyshire, making 0no and 1. Perhaps the most significant thing about this game is that Mark Adair played for Warwickshire, returning 4-2-6-0 and 9-0-36-2, with the wickets of openers Ben Slater and Billy Godleman.

George Dockrell was given the added responsibility of captaining Somerset’s 2nd XI in a couple of friendlies with Exeter University (8-1-17-1) and Gloucestershire (5-4-8-1).

A week previously Somerset’s seconds had featured Bobby Gamble, the YMCA and Ireland U19 seamer who is now at Loughborough Colleges. Gamble did his prospects of summer work no harm against Worcestershire 2nds with a return of 14-7-15-2 and 9-2-23-1, as well as a brisk unbeaten 20.

Gamble has played a few games against the counties for Loughborough MCC, with his tight lines being rewarded with plenty of lbws. Against Worcestershire 2nds, who must be sick of the sight of him, he had 18-10-30-2.

He has been joined at Loughborough by another Ireland U19 bowler, Robert McKinley of Ballymena, whose debut against Leicestershire saw him claiming figures of 7-5-10-2 and taking the scalps of Matt Boyce and Ned Eckersley.

Also on the student beat are a pair of Ireland representative players at Cambridge University. Ben Wylie made 27 against Essex 2nds and took 2-32 against the Unicorns. Merrion’s Patrick Tice played in both games, making 22 against the Unicorns.

Countywatch will be back at the end of the week rounding up the early-season first-class fixtures and the first round of the County Championship.