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Skippering Irish is the top honour, says Stirling

 

Century boy: Ireland’s Paul Stirling celebrates a century against Bangladesh last week at Clontarf
Century boy: Ireland’s Paul Stirling celebrates a century against Bangladesh last week at Clontarf

By Ben Kosky

Paul Stirling admits he would find another opportunity to lead Ireland difficult to refuse after sampling captaincy for the first time earlier this year.

The hard-hitting Middlesex batsman was asked to stand in when Ireland's regular Twenty20 skipper Gary Wilson was unavailable for their three-match series with Afghanistan in India in February.

Although Ireland lost the series, Stirling - who grew up in Co Antrim and played for Cliftonville and Carrickfergus before signing his first contract at Middlesex - is certainly open to the idea of doing the job again.

"Being asked to captain your country, it's hard to say no," he said. "It's not something I thought was going to happen, especially that soon.

"It was good fun to be in charge of 15 other lads, trying to improve our T20 cricket, and I enjoyed stepping up. I think the privilege of being asked is actually more important than seeking to become a captain.

"It was nice being asked to set the standards required, with the extra responsibility that brings.

"It's not something I'll go searching for but, again, it'd be hard to turn down in the future.

"I've been lucky in that, playing for Middlesex and Ireland for so long, I haven't played under too many different captains.

"William Porterfield's been my captain since I started for Ireland - he has a lot of attributes that would stand anyone in good stead. For Middlesex, there's been Adam Voges, Chris Rogers and others that I can pick bits out of."

Stirling has been with Middlesex for a decade now, spending the most of that time at the top of their white-ball batting order and making Lord's - the Home of Cricket - his home ground too.

That means the 28-year-old is particularly looking forward to July, when Lord's stages the inaugural Test match between England and Ireland - although he may easily head for the home changing room out of habit.

"I nearly did that last time, when we played a one-day international at Lord's the year before last!" Stirling recalled.

"If that happens again, I'm sure I'll get ushered into the other one pretty quickly.

"That almost felt like a home game because I've been at Middlesex so long. It was a brilliant occasion and I'm sure it'll be quite similar to that for the Test.

"Hopefully the Irish contingent can bring a good crowd, which we usually do in London, it'll be a good game and we make sure we turn up for it."

The Test clash against England is set to be the highlight of a busy international summer for Ireland, in part because of their failure to qualify for the 50-over World Cup which begins next week.

Porterfield's side were unable to snatch one of the two places on offer at last year's qualifying competition in Zimbabwe, with the ICC controversially opting to limit the main tournament to just 10 teams.

"We're disappointed that we didn't qualify but there's no remorse, we had our chances," said Stirling, who represented Ireland in both the 2011 and 2015 World Cups.

"We just didn't play our peak game.

"We had a real chance chasing just over 250 against the West Indies and came up short, then we had an unexpected chance against Afghanistan but again failed to put up a good enough total.

"From a general perspective, a 10-team World Cup seems a bit light if you want to expand the game and get more countries playing. But there are numerous players who are unlucky to be missing out."

While the World Cup is taking place, Stirling could find himself concentrating on red-ball cricket as Middlesex attempt to kick-start their bid for promotion to Division One of the County Championship.

The Lord's side, who were relegated in 2017, have made a return to the top flight their priority, particularly with three promotion places up for grabs due to a restructuring of the competition this year.

"It's a great opportunity and it'd be really disappointing at the end of the year if we hadn't filled one of those spots," he said.

"But in professional cricket you're not guaranteed anything and we need to perform," added Stirling.

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