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Ireland in the firing line as Morgan returns with his big guns


By Ian Callender

England have named their strongest available squad for next week's one-day internationals against Ireland at Bristol and Lord's as they begin the countdown to the Champions Trophy in June.

Traditionally, England have used the biennial games against Ireland to give up and coming players their first opportunity in international cricket, but there are no debutants this time with National Selector James Whitaker insisting "we aim to win both series". They have three ODIs against South Africa later in the month before they host the Champions Trophy.

The only three missing from the England sides to face Ireland on May 5 and 7, as previously announced, are Ben Stokes, Josh Butler and Chris Woakes, who have been given permission to continue playing in the Indian Premier League for an extra two weeks, but Irishman Eoin Morgan, the captain of England's ODI squad, and Sam Billings are both set to return next Monday.

Ireland will also have to face Mark Wood, England's fastest bowler, who is fit again after undergoing three operations on his ankle. He is sure to be an even more difficult proposition on the faster English wickets than he was in Malahide two years ago when he took the wicket of captain William Porterfield as Ireland slumped to 56 for four before the game was abandoned after 18 overs.

However, while Ireland are set to field up to nine of the team that faced England last time - only the retired John Mooney and Alex Cusack will be missing - England have seven survivors, including the other two wicket-takers, David Willey and Steven Finn, the latter who will feel he has a point to prove as he is one of the players who will not be involved in England's Champions Trophy campaign.

The other is Ben Duckett, the Northamptonshire batsman, whose only three ODIs were against Bangladesh last October, where he averaged 41.

But, otherwise, all the big names, including England Test captain Joe Root, are in the squad.

"We have made encouraging progress over the past 18 months in white ball cricket and the squads selected reflects consistency and gives options across all disciplines," said Whitaker.

"As we build-up to the ICC Champions Trophy in June, matches against Ireland and South Africa are very important in their own right as we aim to win both series."

There was good news for Ireland yesterday with the return to action of Paul Stirling for Middlesex II, his first game since damaging his hand in the Intercontinental Cup against Afghanistan four weeks ago.

He appeared to prove his fitness with 64 from just 57 balls with 11 fours and a six and dominating an opening stand of 107 with England Test batsman Nick Compton against Surrey II.

Ireland's other injury doubt, Kevin O'Brien, has confirmed he will return to action in the opening inter-provincial of the season, the 50 overs Cup game at The Hills on Monday for Leinster Lightning against the North West Warriors.

The Northern Knights, meanwhile, got their season off to a winning start with a seven-wicket victory over the Western Warriors at Shaw's Bridge.

One-time international Chris Dougherty saw the innings through with an unbeaten 62 despite facing just 37 balls. He hit eight fours and a six. Gary Kidd was the most impressive bowler with three for 15 in three overs as the Scottish side were dismissed for 122.

England: E Morgan (capt), Moeen Ali, J Bairstow, J Ball, S Billings, B Duckett, S Finn, A Hales, L Plunkett, A Rashid, J Root, J Roy, D Willey, M Wood

Emerging Knights 155-9 (20 overs): J Mitchell 37 not out, S Bunting 23, M Gilmour 20, A Berry 20) Western Warriors 156-4 (18 overs; R Berrington 80 not out, M English 30; N Smith 2-16, J Holmes 2-32). Warriors won by 6 wickets.

Western Warriors 122 (19.3 overs): J Snyman 46, G Kidd 3-15) Northern Knights 125-3 (16 overs, C Dougherty 62 not out, A Dennison 22). Knights won by 7 wickets.

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