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Andrew Balbirnie hails Ireland's testing summer schedule as the ‘perfect’ preparation for their World Cup bid

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All set: Andrew Balbirnie excited for Ireland’s busy fixture list this summer. Credit: Sam Barnes / Sportsfile

All set: Andrew Balbirnie excited for Ireland’s busy fixture list this summer. Credit: Sam Barnes / Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

All set: Andrew Balbirnie excited for Ireland’s busy fixture list this summer. Credit: Sam Barnes / Sportsfile

Ireland captain Andrew Balbirnie has described this summer’s international fixture list as the “perfect preparation” for the T20 World Cup.

Balbirnie was among the who’s who of Irish cricket in Dublin yesterday as Cricket Ireland launched their ‘Season of the Stars’, with 15 men’s matches and 12 Women’s internationals, in the busiest ever summer.

India, the world’s leading men’s T20 side, New Zealand and Afghanistan will all be in Ireland, who will also play South Africa in two games in Bristol.

“Having high-quality T20 cricket going into the World Cup is great,” said Balbirnie. “India, New Zealand, South Africa and Afghanistan is perfect prep and we’ll have a good idea of where we are at as a squad and a team going into the World Cup.

"It will also be great to have spectators back, without restrictions. We have missed them in the last couple of years and even here today, it’s great to see people again, to talk in person rather than on computer screens.

“We played (against England) in Bristol in 2017, it’s a lovely place to play cricket, and after those games it’s back to Belfast and straight into the Afghanistan series. But it will be full on once the India series starts but, meantime, there are plenty of inter-pro games and the boys are looking forward to working with the new coach and then a chance to showcase their skills on the world stage.”

The new coach, Heinrich Malan, was also in attendance at the launch just a couple of days after arriving from South Africa and he is looking forward to watching the inter-pros and meeting up with the contracted players.

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“It’s a good opportunity to see cricket and get to know the players over the next few weeks,” said Malan. “I was with the Wolves in Namibia last month and that was good to have time with a wider squad of players and with the staff.”

The major announcement at the launch was a five-year broadcast deal with Pitch International for all home men’s and women’s internationals, while confirmation that the men’s series against India and the women’s matches against Australia in Bready will be televised is expected shortly.

Women’s head coach Ed Joyce and captain Laura Delany were also present just hours after returning from a week’s camp in La Manga, which was attended by all 19 squad members.

“We want to play competitive cricket and Laura’s and my job is to make sure the squad is ambitious but realistic,” said Joyce.

“It’s just six weeks before the South Africans arrive and then we have the tri-series against Australia and Pakistan in July. There could be some tough days and with a lot of teenagers in the squad, we have to keep them on track and make sure those days don’t derail the team.”

First, though, club cricket takes centre stage and NCU players have two matches over the weekend, with CIYMS, including new Knights captain Mark Adair, against Waringstown the stand-out game on Holiday Monday.

CI’s new overseas professional, Keith Dudgeon, was due to fly in from South Africa last night and the Belmont side will expect to bounce back from their shock opening day defeat by Lisburn. They are the visitors for Cregagh’s first ever home Premier League game.

Lisburn have a great chance of making it two from two against the other promoted side, Cliftonville Academy, who are still without new professional Dominic Hendricks as there now has been a delay in getting his passport back.

The other four opening day winners are in direct confrontation tomorrow with defending champions Waringstown hosting Woodvale and North Down at home to Civil Service North.

In the North West, the Long’s Supervalu Premiership, again played over 40 overs this season, gets under way with defending champions Bready starting at home to Strabane, although the T20 format will again steal the headlines with the final of the Sam McConnell Charity Cup taking place on Sunday between Brigade and Eglinton at The Rectory.

The Women’s equivalent, between Fox Lodge and Bready starts the day’s action at noon.


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