Stirling must be strong for Irish cricket team
IRELAND face a trial by spin when they return to action in the World Twenty20 Qualifying tournament under the Abu Dhabi floodlights tonight, with UAE their opponents in the second semi-final.
The hosts used four spinners in their play-off victory against the Netherlands on Wednesday to confirm their place in the finals, but while Ireland have gone into the tournament with only one specialist spinner in George Dockrell, Paul Stirling has done all he has been asked in the last three group games and James Shannon's wicket from his first delivery in international cricket could have won him a game in today's clash.
Shannon, although by no means a regular bowler even at club level, is a wicket-taker for Instonians and if he was considered good enough to come in for Niall O'Brien in their must-win final group game against Hong Kong last Sunday, National Coach Phil Simmons will have no hesitation in keeping an unchanged team with Shannon's occasional spin possibly making up his mind.
Indeed, it could be argued that there is less riding on today's semi-final because there is no financial incentive for winning the tournament; all six qualifiers receive $250,000 for making it to Bangladesh.
It is only ranking places up for grabs now and the prestige of winning the trophy, or in Ireland's case, retaining it.
But, at this level, Ireland expect to win every match and today is no different, but to do so it could be a case of Stirling's bowling being just as important as his runs with the bat. And the 23-year-old former Belfast High School pupil has grown into his secondary but just as vital role.
"I'm very happy with the bowling. The big ground helps so when the pace is taken off the ball, it's hard for batsmen to clear the boundary.
"Against Hong Kong I got four wickets but they were all top quality catches and that's an area where I feel we have a big edge.
"I'd like to think we are 10-15 runs up in the field against UAE and that could be the difference."
Ireland had only five runs to spare in the group game between the teams, 12 days ago, but that was played next door to the Zayed Stadium, where the final stages of the tournament are taking place, and again that should favour Ireland, says Stirling.
"I think the Oval ground suited the UAE more, so it's good to get them in the Stadium, but no matter where we play them the spinners will still be tough.
"We'll have to wait and see if we have a new pitch or it will we be another used one," Stirling added.
The Netherlands impressive chase, to pass Scotland's 147 for six, for the loss of two wickets with 13 balls to spare – and clinch the final place in Bangladesh – would suggest the batsman can play their shots and there is certainly no shortage of experience in this Ireland line-up against top-class spin.
And Stirling is as experienced as anyone, after his experience in the Bangladesh Premier League this year. "I'm certainly getting plenty of opportunity to play spin," he explained.
"But the key is a good start. One of the top three has to stay there and if the other two get 30s then we should get a winning total," said the Middlesex opener.
Today's game is being shown live on Sky Sports 3.