Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 31 July 2014

Cricket: Can Paul Stirling become the new Eoin Morgan?

Paul Stirling

Time is certainly on Paul Stirling’s side. The prodigiously talented Ireland batsman is still eight weeks short of his 20th birthday but already comparisons are being made with Eoin Morgan, now an automatic selection in the England one-day team.

One of his Ireland team-mates, John Mooney, said this week if he was given the choice of paying to watch Morgan, Stirling or Ed Joyce, the former Ireland and England batsman who is set to return to the Irish side, it would be Stirling every time.

Quite a compliment but, having watched the teenager’s progress for the last 15 months at close quarters, it is an opinion that has to be respected — and it is easy to see why.

For the moment it is not so much the weight of runs, or his modest Ireland batting average of 24.02, but the manner in which Stirling scores his runs that appears to make the former Belfast High schoolboy a certainty to be fast-tracked to the top.

Stirling plays shots which his team-mates can only dream about, a compelling concoction of timing and power, with his extra-cover driving on the up consistently earning gasps of astonishment and applause from spectators and the players’ tent alike.

And, as might be expected, he is still at the age where he is learning.

It wasn’t so long ago that he was playing too many shots for his own good.

He did not know when to rein himself in; why be satisfied with two sixes in an over when you could hit a third.

Yet, it was that attitude which cost him his place in the Ireland team at the World Twenty20 qualifiers in Dubai last February.

Unbelievably, to seasoned observers, despite scoring 82 from 82 balls in four warm-up matches and 23 off 21 in the opening game against Afghanistan, Ireland reached the finals in the West Indies without him. Stirling hasn’t missed a game since and his sparkling run-a-ball 36, with seven fours, against Australia last month proved his place on the world stage.

But it was “only 36” and what Stirling has still to prove — and of course at his tender age he has so much time — is a hunger for the game.

While Morgan, with single-minded devotion, told anyone who would listen that he would play Test cricket for England, the Newtownabbey teenager is much more laid back, whatever will be, will be, might be his motto.

While most players have to work hard for every run, every big innings, Stirling finds it so easy that, much like Joyce before him — probably a better comparison than Morgan — boredom sets in or a lack of concentration and he gets out long before he should.

Only once in his first 55 Ireland matches has Stirling reached three figures — he was out immediately afterwards — while Morgan at the same stage of his international career had scored two centuries and a double hundred plus three other scores in the 90s. It is why Morgan’s average is so much superior, despite both hitting nine half centuries.

As for Stirling’s England ambitions, well he is certainly in the right place, contracted to Middlesex where Joyce and Morgan both started their county careers. For the moment, though, it is Ireland’s new Operations Director, Mark Garaway, who has done the best bit of business by also putting Stirling on a full-time Ireland contract and written into it is that his country have first call on his services.

It could be the reason his Middlesex career has yet to take off. One T20 innings, batting at No 7, is the sum total of his first-team experience to date and when he returns to Lord’s after next week’s ODIs against Bangladesh there is no guarantee of a recall.

One team who can forget about naming Stirling in their line-up is Carrickfergus. Although the local boy would be welcomed back with open arms, that part of his career would appear to be over.

Indeed, he was the one international who didn’t play club cricket the day before the squad left for the European Championships in Holland, happy to take a rest before six games of international cricket in 10 days.

His decision may not have pleased Carrick but it could be said it showed that Stirling is concentrating on the bigger picture. How much further he can go is, literally, in his own hands and if he continues to power on, the next

Middlesex contract may be rather more difficult to negotiate.

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