New year, old problems

Like many, I’d hoped 2021 would provide fresh hope and optimism after a 2020 in which my life, like many others, resembled a Country and Western song. There was much to look forward to in January, which is the worst month of the year with the dark days and bitterly cold weather.

I’d looked forward to the series against UAE and the World Cup Qualifiers which followed against Afghanistan. However, after just one game there have been two postponements and the series hangs in the balance. Indeed I’d heard initially on Tuesday that the entire series had been called off after a fourth outbreak of covid in the UAE camp. I’m guessing talks are ongoing to try and salvage something from the wreckage.

The tour opener hadn’t exactly gone to plan. Highlights from an Irish perspective were Paul Stirling’s hundred, more runs for Andy Balbirnie, plus cameos from Kevin O’Brien, Curtis Campher and Gareth Delany.

A big worry was the display of the bowling unit who after a bright start looked toothless, bereft of ideas as to how to end a record UAE partnership. The attack looked understandably rusty, but it’s obviously a worry that they look one-dimensional on flat tracks. The lack of variety has been a long-standing issue, not helped on this occasion by the absence of their left-arm options, Josh Little still isolating and George Dockrell out of favour.

There’s certainly plenty for new bowling coach Stuart Barnes to work on. I have to wonder though if he, like his predecessors, can effectively work with spinners and more specifically leg-spinners? It is a generalisation but I’ve found that most coaches tend to be batting orientated, and when bowling coaches are appointed they seem to be fast bowling appointees, concentrating on the quicker bowlers, with little to no knowledge of the fine arts of slow bowling.

For about 15 years Leinster have launched a ‘find a fast bowler’ campaign with varying degrees of success. I’d like to see campaigns where a search for a spinner, more specifically a leg-spinner is launched. These guys are the gold dust of modern cricket and their mysterious ways are needed on flat and subcontinental tracks.

We do have Gareth Delany in the ranks but his bowling is very much still at the developmental phase at international level, and as stated earlier I doubt if Stuart Barnes has the expertise to get the best out of him. If only there was a former Test leg-spinner involved in coaching in Ireland who could pass on his expertise to Gareth and other young hopefuls…

On the subject of passing on expertise, I think it’s been a real shame that Niall O’Brien hasn’t been used to coach young wicket-keepers or John Mooney the fielders. There had been talk that both would be used shortly after they retired, but that seemed to fizzle out after a short period. A case of prophets not being accepted in their own lands?

Pastures new

Over the weekend news filtered through of another NW player journeying over the Glenshane to pastures new, as Graham Kennedy joined CIYMS, making an already strong club even stronger.

With Graham Hume having joined Waringstown, that makes it a further two Warriors now plying their trade in the NCU alongside Stuart Thompson, Chris Dougherty, Graeme McCarter, Boyd Rankin and Craig Young. With only Young as a full-time Ireland contracted player able to choose which interpro side he represents, it’s clear something has to give.

If the Warriors were to continue with a locals only policy, then there’s little doubt that while it would help with building an identity, it would do little to help with competitiveness in a competition that has gone into decline in recent years given Leinster’s dominance.

There has been little news on the proposals to revamp the competition, and nothing further on fixtures for the interpros, Irish or National cups. Guess that’s going to be down to the newly appointed Operations Director when they take office.

The lack of published fixtures/draws at local and Irish level is perfectly understandable given the current pandemic situation. With the new season still 14 weeks away Unions and the governing body don’t want to waste their resources on planning for games which in all likelihood will be cancelled or delayed. It would seem likely that the first part of the new season may be T20 only, with longer formats in the second half of the season bar a major turnaround in covid. It would appear prudent that multi-day cricket is off the agenda for this year, with Ireland concentrating on white-ball formats.

Good news

On a more encouraging note, the news that Ireland were flying out Shane Getkate as a 16th player in the squad, plus taking Bready’s Conor Olphert as a net bowler, would indicate that Irish finances are robust (the favourite word in press releases these days, especially from Conservative Party headquarters). Given that the cost of this would be £10,000 plus, then it’s natural to conclude that things are rosy in the finance department.

That was also reinforced by CI advertising for a new position as a Participation Programmes Coordinator, helping to carry out programmes that they’ve previously sourced substantial grant funding for.

Here come the girls

While there has been no news on confirmed fixtures for Ireland Women, there is hope that Ireland Under 19 Girls will be part of the inaugural Under 19 World Cup later this year.

The competition was due to be held in Bangladesh in January/February but was postponed last year. During the week it emerged that Bangladesh had announced that they would now be hosting the event in December.

This has yet to be ratified by ICC next month, but it has been confirmed that if the event does get the green light, then Ireland will be one of the participants, without having to go through a qualifying process.

What an incentive for the young cricketers to make an impression in the forthcoming season, with the possibility of interprovincial matches to aid selection.

Welcome to the world

Finally this week, congratulations to Isobel Joyce and John Anderson on the birth of their son Jamie, and also to Gary and Jennifer Wilson on their second son, Oscar.

Great news for both families and hopefully I’ll get the chance to photograph them getting their full caps in about 20 years’ time…