Ireland can spring a few surprises in historic Test, says Stirling
Paul Stirling yesterday dispelled any doubts about his fitness and is excited about playing his part in Ireland's inaugural Test, against Pakistan, starting at Malahide tomorrow.
The Middlesex professional missed the last round of county championship action with tightness in his calf but he has been home for the last week and after training between the showers at the Test match venue yesterday, he reports no problems.
"It happened on the last day of Middlesex v Glamorgan and I didn't field for the last 30 overs," he said. "But Middlesex have been great about it, told me to get ready for the Test and the rest has done it good. I tested it out the last couple of days and passed them all so good to go."
And Stirling, while excited about the match, is determined to enjoy what will be an unforgettable occasion.
"We're all really excited, we've been looking forward to it for a while now since the squad was announced, and we've finally got a few practice sessions in at Malahide," he said.
"Hopefully I'll take it all in, standing in the slip cordon, looking at the full stands and the red ball coming down and just try to enjoy every ball."
Stirling will be in an unfamiliar role, to most Ireland fans, when he gets his chance to bat because, while he opens in flamboyant, big-hitting style in the one-day game, he will be No 5 on the scorecard this weekend, a position he has played only once before in red-ball cricket for Ireland.
"I've batted in the middle order for a couple of years now for Middlesex in the county championship and a little bit with Ireland (also in four ODIs). It is a different challenge, because after opening the batting throughout your career you are used to the toss going up and going straight out to either bat or field, which I quite like in the one-day stuff," he said.
"The only challenge there, is that you are ready to bat, while in red-ball cricket you could be out in 15 minutes or at the end of the day. So the challenge is to be ready to face that first ball whenever.
"But I love the longer game just as much as the one-day stuff. You don't want to give anything up when you're young, you want to play every format and as much cricket as you can because at a later stage in life you might not have the opportunity or body to do everything, so while you can, you have to enjoy it. You don't want to regret anything."
The pitch, two days out from the first ball, is, unsurprisingly, green, which could tempt the Ireland coach and captain to go in with an all-pace attack which would mean Stirling would be the main slow bowler. But the 27-year-old, with 225 appearances since his Ireland debut 10 years ago, is ready for that challenge as well.
"I bowled a few overs against Derbyshire when we had a few bowlers down, I think I ended up bowling about 25 in that match and it came out all right," he said. "So I'm ready if that's the way the selectors want to go and hopefully I can get a few overs in and cause a few issues.
"I'll get a good little bowl tomorrow, when the weather is supposed to be better, and be ready to bowl if required."
But it will be the Ireland batting which will be key to their performance, putting runs on the board to give the bowlers something to defend and having scored two centuries in his previous seven games against Pakistan, Stirling will be comfortable in the middle.
"The last (century) was in 2013 - when Kevin O'Brien, who will also be in action this weekend, hit the last ball for four to claim a tie - but it gives you a little bit of comfortabilty. But looking at their squad, they have a few new names but we're fortunate that they've played a couple of games in England and knowing a few of the guys in the opposition they can pass on a bit of knowledge if there is anything out of the ordinary."
And his thoughts on how the Test might go?
"Hopefully we can get stuck in from ball one," says Stirling. "We can't afford to start slowly, have to make sure we are right on it and give it everything.
"It's easy to forget to enjoy the game, there has been a massive and long build-up and you don't want to put too much pressure on the team or individuals. So it's a case of going out and enjoying yourself and whatever happens, happens and make sure we compete well."
Only Australia, in the first ever, has won their debut Test but, according to Stirling, "you never know, you need a few things to go your way but you always think you are going to win games".
He added: "You don't know if the toss will be crucial, if you get a couple of early wickets and put pressure on from there, there could be a few surprises, so no-one really knows what to expect. There is a bit of weather around so it could be difficult batting if there are short breaks in play and then having to start again.
"And no-one expected us to beat Pakistan (at the World Cup) in 2007 - and that went pretty well!"
Meanwhile, one of Stirling's former Ireland team-mates Max Sorensen will play for Munster Reds in this season's inter-provincial T20 Trophy.
The Hills captain retired from international cricket last year, after repeatedly missing out on selection while John Bracewell was coach, but the South African-born all-rounder has been bowling in the nets at Malahide this week, and could yet make a comeback in the shortest format at international level.
Sorensen took 95 wickets at the impressive average of 20.16 in his 68 appearances for Ireland from 2012 to 2016.
Ireland vs Pakistan
Test Match: Malahide, Tomorrow, 11.00am