International cricket returns to Stormont for the first time since July 2019 when Ireland completed a clean sweep of ODI wins over Zimbabwe, but it’s a change of format and much stronger opposition which faces Andy Balbirnie’s side today.
Ireland had the excuse of having gone 16 months without a T20 international when they lost the first of the three-match series against South Africa in Malahide but a much improved batting performance will be expected and demanded today.
The final margin on Monday was 33 runs but that hides the nightmare first 12 overs of the Ireland innings when they crashed to 70 for eight, chasing 165, with only Barry McCarthy (30 not out) and Josh Little’s highest scores for Ireland giving the hosts some respectability after a last-wicket stand of 44.
“It was nice to get a couple of runs the other day, but I’d like to make a more regular contribution with the bat - and in closer matches, not just when perhaps the game is away from us,” said McCarthy, whose previous best score in his first 49 Ireland games was 18 not out.
“Personally I’ve been disappointed with my batting but I’d now like to kick on and be seen as someone who can be relied upon for a few valuable runs at the end.”
The squad know, however, it is the top order batsmen who must score the bulk of the runs if they are to have any chance of victory, especially in the shortest format.
“It’s obviously a crucial time in the powerplays (the first six overs of each innings) and that’s going to be a key theme in pretty much every T20 we play in the lead-up to the World Cup in October,” added McCarthy. “If you can come out of them level or better then the rest of the game is a level playing field.
“To get three wickets in the powerplay with the ball was nice but the batting powerplay just didn’t go the way we wanted it to. We showed the intent we’ll need to compete against the best in the world but it just wasn’t our day.”
Depending on the surface at Stormont, it is likely the same players will be given a second chance to get it right today with only Craig Young, of the four left out, having played T20 internationals. With the series still in the balance, it would be a big ask to introduce William McClintock, Ben White or Stephen Doheny.
For Mark Adair it is a chance to add to his impressive start at his ‘home ground’, having taking nine wickets in his four ODIs at Stormont, but his memory of the Belfast venue goes back much further.
“My first live game of cricket was Ireland v England at Stormont (in 2009) where I was helping the groundsman to pull the covers. I’ve grown up playing around Stormont so it will be nice to be back playing there again, and in front of a crowd,” said Adair, albeit a ‘sold-out’ Stormont in these times means just 500 spectators.
“When Bal (Balbirnie) got his hundred the other day you saw the entire ground stand up, and you got that tingling feeling once more. Hopefully we can give them something to cheer.”
Today’s game is live on BT Sport 2 and begins at 4pm.