The absence of Test cricket is stalling Ireland’s progress in the white-ball format. That’s the view of vice-captain Paul Stirling as he prepares to lead the Irish into today’s deciding one-day international against the West Indies in Jamaica (2.30pm).
A superb five-wicket victory in the delayed second game on Thursday levelled the series and gave Ireland another 10 points in the World Cup Super League. It was Ireland’s third scalp, following their successes against England in 2020 and South Africa last summer, but they were one-off wins in three-match series and Stirling believes their record would be even better against the “big teams” if they could play more Test matches.
Since being given Full Member (and Test match) status by ICC in 2017, Ireland have played only three Tests, the last at Lord’s in July 2019. There are two more on the schedule for this year, against Zimbabwe in April and at home to Afghanistan in August, but neither have been confirmed.
“We would obviously like to be playing more Test cricket, there’s no hiding from that,” says Stirling. “The timing of the Test match status could have been better. We had a pretty good generation in the five years preceding the decision and would have been in a better position then to compete and play more games.
“But world cricket is going down the white ball route a lot and our performances in T20 cricket haven’t been up to scratch.”
ICC have recently confirmed the T20 World Cup will now be held every two years with the 50-over World Cup continuing its four-year cycle.
“To take away the Test matches and play more T20s in the hope you will progress quick enough to be a side that challenges the big teams in T20, you can go down that route as well, it’s a really difficult one and not one that I...” adds Stirling.
“It’s not easy for the powers-that-be, we know it costs a lot to play Test cricket. Can we compete year in, year out are probably questions not for me as the stand-in captain, but from a players’ point of view we love to play Test cricket, you challenge yourself against the best players in the world in the hardest format but we need to improve our white-ball cricket in both formats because that is the way cricket is going.”
Stirling missed last weekend’s opening World Cup Super League game as he was completing 10 days of isolation in Florida, having tested positive for Covid on the USA leg of the tour. He spoke, honestly, about the mindset of cricketers in a bubble with matches being cancelled.
“While there is uncertainty things crack and people go in different directions. You’ve got those who just want to play cricket and others saying, ‘This is really where we don’t want to be’ and want to go home and you have to find somewhere in the middle,” he says.
“But once that uncertainty is taken away, as it was on Tuesday this week, you can focus on that and there is absolutely no doubt we are here to win the series. And once we knew this is what we’re doing, we were ready to go.”
It showed almost to perfection with their success on Thursday with Harry Tector continuing his excellent recent form to guide the side home with an unbeaten 54, after man of the match Andy McBrine’s 35 and four wickets and three wickets as well for Craig Young.
After the game, captain Andrew Balbirnie, isolating in his hotel room in Kingston, summed up the mood and trials in the camp, tweeting: “Thrilled for this whole group. Particularly delighted to see Gareth Delany, after spending 17 days of this tour in quarantine, hit the winning runs and see us home.”