Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Cricket: Stirling’s class can make him brightest star ever

Paul Stilring has produced a number of memorable innings for Ireland

Paul Stirling has the world at his feet — and on Saturday, against Australia in the RSA Challenge at Stormont, he gets another chance to take on the world’s No. 1 one-day team.

PAUL’S PROGRESS PUTS HIM ON COURSE TO BE IRELAND’S BEST Big hitter: Paul Stirling has produced a number of memorable innings for IrelandpAUL Stirling has the world at his feet — and on Saturday, against Australia in the RSA Challenge at Stormont, he gets another chance to take on the world’s No. 1 one-day team.

Two years ago this week, at the age of 19, Stirling and his captain, William Porterfield, set Ireland up for what would have been their greatest ever victory, against Australia in Dublin, but it was a case of 36 and out for the country’s most exciting young talent and from 80 for no wicket in 11 overs, Ireland collapsed to 192 all out, 40 short of victory.

It was a missed opportunity for the leading Associate nation but, with more and more international cricket being played around the world, Ireland were never going to have to wait long for another chance to get one over the elite.

It was to be against England, in Bangalore, at the World Cup finals last year, when Ireland would claim that “greatest ever victory” and forgotten, in the aftermath of Kevin O’Brien’s fastest ever World Cup century, was another Paul Stirling cameo of 32 in 28 balls, with five fours and a six.

The cameos, though, are becoming less frequent, the innings are becoming longer — and consistently entertaining — and the class is beginning to shine so much that Stirling is starting to show why he can be Ireland’s greatest ever player.

He followed that knock against England with a record four centuries in 10 innings last year, including what is his favourite for Ireland.

“The one against Pakistan at Stormont,” said Stirling. “To score a century against one of the Test teams is special and to do it in front of your home crowd and your family made it all the sweeter. The plan is to do it again on Saturday, but the win is more important than any individual contribution.”

That would appear a nice way of deflecting the pressure off his broad shoulders but, despite having the vast majority of his career ahead of him, Stirling accepts there is expectation every time he walks to the middle, “but not too much pressure.”

He adds: “You have to keep on performing to get yourself into this situation. At the end of the day everybody wants to be as successful as possible and there is no point hiding from success. When you get to the top you have to try to stay there and I just want to be a consistent performer for Middlesex and Ireland.”

That consistency is already forcing Stirling to change his goals. For example, if he plays every match this summer, he will have 118 caps before his 22nd birthday on September 3.

“When I set out at 17, my aim was to get 100 caps for Ireland. I can’t believe I have achieved it so quickly. I will have to set a few more goals,” he admits, without being presumptuous enough to list them.

When I suggest he is on course to break every record in the book, he laughs and simply says: “One step at a time.”

The good news for Ireland, in these days when England have already taken Ed Joyce and Eoin Morgan out of their ranks and have Boyd Rankin in their Lions team, Stirling has no such aspirations, at least in the short term.

“I don’t qualify for England for another couple of years, so I haven’t even thought about that possibility. I’m just trying to concentrate on getting into the four-day team for Middlesex.”

Is that close? “It’s quite difficult to force your way into the championship team,” he adds. “There’s not that many matches and Andrew Strauss, Morgan and Steven Finn come back from the England team and take up places. But hopefully it won’t be too far away.”

Stirling has already signed off from Middlesex this week, but not before helping them to their first win in the Friends Life T20 competition, with a man of the match performance (71 off 49 balls) against Hampshire.

“I feel in good touch and hopefully I can stay in form, but it’s not just up to me, we have a good team, it looks strong on paper and although nothing happens on paper we have a good chance to beat

Australia and catch them cold,” he said.

When Stirling meets up with the rest of the Ireland team Australia will be the sole focus of concentration.

“I always look forward to coming home and meeting up with the lads. They’re a great bunch to be around and we will go into the game believing we can win. It’s a complete change of mindset from not so long ago.

“We had a great chance to win that game (against the Aussies in Clontarf in 2010), unfortunately we couldn’t pull through and score the final runs, but most of us are still around to have another go.”

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