The race for places at next year’s World Cup finals in Asia begins in earnest today when Ireland A meet a Sussex XI at Chichester.
It is the first of two three-day games against county opposition for the A squad — they also play Hampshire in August — but this week’s game is the only one in which players can push their claims ahead of the European Championships in Jersey in the middle of July.
Andre Botha is the surprise inclusion this week, with his role as captain unable to disguise the fact that the experienced all-rounder is playing for his place in the senior squad, possibly even for next week’s one-day international against Australia.
The runs have dried up for Botha in the last year but the chance to spend time in the middle in the longer form of the game will, national coach Phil Simmons hopes, be the catalyst for a return to form of Ireland’s third most experienced ever player. Simmons will watch the first two days of the game.
Botha will face plenty of competition from other hungry batsmen, desperate to push their claims for higher honours, with the new Brigade opening partnership of Craig Dougherty and Niall McDonnell, along with Instonians wicketkeeper-batsman Ryan McCann and Waringstown’s James Hall all going into the game with good club form.
Andrew Poynter has not played a senior international for more than a year while John Mooney was left out of Ireland’s last ODI against West Indies but, along with Botha, is in a 13-man squad to face the world champions in Clontarf next week.
Phil Eaglestone, fresh from five wickets for Strabane in Saturday’s Northern Bank Senior Cup tie, played two games for Ireland in Sri Lanka in February so will not have given up on a World Cup place but faces stiff competition from the new kids on the block, Bready’s Craig Young and Eddie Richardson of North County while South African Albert van der Merwe, even at the age of 33, is an interesting addition.
The former Derriaghy professional, now coaching at The Hills, will put pressure on Waringstown slow left-armer Gary Kidd.
Foyle and Londonderry College host Methodist College in the second semi-final of the Ulster Bank Schools Cup today (2pm) with Sullivan Upper awaiting the winners.