Ireland's men's cricket team will meet England in three ODIs (one-day internationals) at a “bio-secure” Southampton stadium in the coming weeks.
The announcement had been expected for some time but confirmation that Graham Ford's team will play their first cricket since March, across three games at the Ageas Bowl from July 31st to August 4th, is a huge boon to the sport after such a challenging number of months.
“It’s a great relief to the squad and coaching staff that the games are able to proceed, and despite the challenges over the last four months, the lads are in good shape and good spirits,” said captain Andy Balbirnie.
“Returning to training was a great first step in the return to cricket and we have all enjoyed getting back into the nets to brush out the cobwebs.
“However, playing international cricket is a huge honour and not only do we have that to look forward to now, but we’ll be taking on the world champions in their own backyard. That is the ultimate challenge and we’ll be ready.”
The men's side have seen fixtures both at home and abroad cancelled as a result of the pandemic. This series against England, originally due to be played in September before being moved forward in a major calendar reshuffle, was their last chance of getting some game-time this summer with the national squad.
England's strength in depth will be tested to the full given their test squad will be in the midst of a series against Pakistan at the same time. That's 22 players who will not be free to face Ireland but they are currently working off a 55-man training squad.
These are no mere 'friendlies' either.
The England-Ireland ODIs will be the visitors' first fixtures in the new World Cup Super League which is the qualification route for the 2023 ICC World Cup.
The Ireland team will leave Dublin Airport on a special charter flight on July 18 and be transferred to a hotel within the Ageas Bowl grounds where they will stay for the duration. In all, they will be on-site for just short of three weeks.
Players and staff will be tested a week before departure, on arrival, and at regular intervals during their stay. This procedure is designed to complement the health and safety regime employed for the group since they resumed training three weeks ago.
The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) briefed the Irish players, staff, and Cricket Ireland about the venue and all protocols last week, and all players and coaches have duly confirmed that they will make themselves available if selected.
Pakistan are already in situ in England in preparation for their test series against England while the West Indies have been on site for a number of weeks. Their first test against England starts this Wednesday at Old Trafford in Manchester.