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Ireland’s Andrew Balbirnie eager to solve batting pain

Irish needs solution to ongoing problem

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Hitting out: Andrew Balbirnie takes it to the South Africans. Credit: Donall Farmer/PA

Hitting out: Andrew Balbirnie takes it to the South Africans. Credit: Donall Farmer/PA

PA

Hitting out: Andrew Balbirnie takes it to the South Africans. Credit: Donall Farmer/PA

It was a naturally subdued Andrew Balbirnie who spoke after Thursday’s second T20 international against South Africa, a 42 runs defeat, coming just three days after they lost the first game of the three-match series by 33 runs.

They are big margins in T20 cricket and the only reason it wasn’t even bigger last Monday was because of a 44 runs partnership for the last wicket.

It is now less than two months before Ireland’s opening game at theT20 World Cup and Ireland’s batting is a worry.

Yes, the opposition is South Africa but they are ‘only’ ranked sixth in the world – Ireland are 12th – but Balbirnie accepts the top order should be performing better. Scores of 98 for nine and 93 for eight after 15 overs just don’t cut it and render the bowlers’ efforts redundant.

The teams meet again this afternoon at Stormont (4pm) and Balbirnie and head coach Graham Ford have big decisions before the series concludes.

A squad of 15 was selected but so far only the 12 tried and trusted have been involved. Waiting in the wings – and forced to do sprints on the outfield after Thursday’s game against the clock of strength and conditioning coach Brendan Connor – are the three uncapped players, Stephen Doheny, Ben White and William McClintock.

It is unlikely that all three will be given debuts in the same match but then, it could be said, what is there to lose?

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The obvious player to drop out is Ireland’s most capped player, Kevin O’Brien. Looking drained off all confidence or self belief – a feature of his first 377 games – the 37-year-old Dubliner took the difficult decision last month to retire from one-day international cricket, after scores of two, one, one and a duck in his last four games.

At the time he said he wanted to play in the T20 World Cup and hoped to add to his three Test match appearances but his two innings against South Africa this week have lasted a total of three balls and two ducks have extended his horror run of scores.

There are five more T20Is due this summer against Zimbabwe – although the dates have still to be confirmed after this week’s announcement that the tour has been delayed because of quarantine regulations – and the decision must be taken today whether to give O’Brien one more go to find a semblance of form or bring in Doheny.

The Phoenix batsman scored 54 in the first T20 inter-provincial of the season for North West Warriors but added only 50 more in the other five games, but that was still three more than O’Brien managed in all six games for Leinster Lightning. It appears a straightforward decision.

McClintock, the Donemana T20 captain, having been called into the squad after a superb inter-provincial campaign, also deserves a starting slot, although it will be more difficult for Civil Service North leg spinner Ben White to break in at the moment as the bowlers have done almost everything that has been asked of them, especially the spinners.

As Balbirnie acknowledged, despite conceding 17 and 24 respectively in the final over of this week’s games , South Africa’s totals of 165 and 159 were no more than par but the batters “didn’t get going”.

He added: “At half-time, we felt we could have chased (the total), the spinners bowled with great control, although the bowlers all had really good spells and it was disappointing we couldn’t put on a big partnership which would have gone long way to chasing the score.”

Indeed, the highest partnership for the first nine wickets in the first two games was 31 at Stormont on Thursday and 21 of those were scored by Shane Getkate, one of the four ‘T20 only’ members of this year’s squad.

When asked about Paul Stirling opening the bowling – although it’s something the former Middlesex professional has done before – the captain said they would be “trying things” ahead of the World Cup. Let’s hope that stretches to having a look at other players to arrest the worrying batting slump.

*ALL Saturday’s Robinson Services Premiership games start at 11am.


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