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Shannon's club future 'up in the air' as Instonians man on mission to become a big hitter for Ireland

 

Big aim: James Shannon is keen to cement an Ireland place in 2019
Big aim: James Shannon is keen to cement an Ireland place in 2019

By Ian Callender

James Shannon may not know who he will be playing his club cricket for next year but there is no doubt what his main objective is for 2019 - a regular place in the Ireland team across all three formats.

Shannon has been approached by at least two Dublin clubs, tempting him to end his one-club affair with Instonians, and the 28-year-old Northern Knights captain admits he is still undecided.

"It's up in the air, I'll see what happens over the next weeks, months," is all he would say on the transfer rumours, but the fact that he is thinking about leaving Shaw's Bridge - where his father is club chairman - underlines his ambition for a new challenge.

His immediate challenge is establishing himself in the Ireland team and, although the senior squad are not back in action until the middle of February, the countdown has already started with a batting camp in Bangalore followed by a month-long tour with Ireland Wolves to Sri Lanka.

Shannon is one of eight batsmen who flew to India on Sunday to practice in the conditions Ireland will face when they return to the country in February for a nine-match series against Afghanistan.

And with Test captain William Porterfield, T20 skipper Gary Wilson plus Andrew Balbirnie, Simi Singh and Stuart Poynter also making the trip, as well as Wolves team-mates Harry Tector and Waringstown's James McCollum, it is a select group, supervised by national coach Graham Ford and batting coach Ben Smith.

"It's based at a top Academy in Bangalore (scene of Ireland's most famous victory, against England at the 2011 World Cup) and will be full on for four-five hours a day," said Shannon.

"As well as the top-class facilities, we can talk as a group about how we are going to combat spin, and although we can't replicate facing Rashid (Khan, the world's leading No.1 spin bowler and his Afghanistan team-mate) Mujeeb, we can come up with a plan.

"It's 10 days, so a lot of volume and it will be nice to get outside rather than unrealistic conditions indoors."

After the camp, the Wolves players can spend Christmas at home with their families before heading off to Sri Lanka and two four-day games and five one-day games, during which the squad for the Afghanistan tour will be selected.

After what he describes as a "frustrating" 2018, Shannon, rated as one of the most talented batsmen in Ireland, is happy to have plenty of playing time.

"I didn't feel I got into any rhythm this year because of injury and lack of form personally at times, but I really enjoyed being part of all the squads with the highlight our first Test with Pakistan and the two T20 games against India. Playing in front of fantastic crowds was special and, of course, the quality of the opposition," he said.

"I'm happy to be part of it, but it was bittersweet. I wanted to play more and contribute more generally. I just want to play as much as possible and it's a privilege to put on any kind of Irish shirt, so I'm delighted to go on the Wolves trip and then the Oman (T20) series and, touch wood, Afghanistan in India."

Following the retirements of Ed Joyce and Niall O'Brien, there are two places up for grabs next year, and Shannon could be up against a good friend for one of those batting spots.

"I'm good friends with James (McCollum), and if he gets picked ahead of me, or I get picked ahead of him, that's just the way top cricket is these days. He's had a really good year and if he does well in Sri Lanka he will get an opportunity and deserve it," he said.

"That's the policy of the new coaching set-up. Everybody will get a chance and I am ready to take my chance if I get it."

Ireland's fixture schedule for 2019 includes no fewer than seven one-day internationals in the space of 19 days in May, plus six more and a Test match at Lord's in July before the squad hit T20 mode ahead of the World Cup qualifiers in October/November.

"I can't believe how many fixtures there are - and that doesn't include more Wolves games and inter-provincials. It is huge. It means places will be up for grabs with the volume of cricket there will be, chances for guys to get into the team, but it will be a baptism of fire. It's England, West Indies, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Zimbabwe, so there are no easy games," he said.

Shannon's only international action in the last five years has been in the shortest format but the Belfast man is keen not to be pigeon-holed as a T20 specialist.

"I have won most of my caps in T20 cricket (11 out of 19, including the last 10) and I know how important T20 cricket is and have been basing all my practice around that recently. But I want to play as much cricket as possible," added Shannon.

"I'm working hard, making sure what I need to do, making smarter decisions in practice by targeting areas and, if I do get picked, I will be ready to play and back myself to do it."

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