Ireland assume centre stage for first of three ODIs

The Ageas Bowl will be close to empty when Ireland face England's world champions in the first of three one-day internationals today but Andy Balbirnie knows the eyes of a nation and the cricketing word at large will be bearing down on them.
Ireland assume centre stage for first of three ODIs

Graham Ford's team will be the first Irish team to strut their stuff on the international stage since Covid-19 ravaged the sporting calendar. Picture: Jacob King/PA Wire. 

The Ageas Bowl will be close to empty when Ireland face England's world champions in the first of three one-day internationals today but Andy Balbirnie knows the eyes of a nation and the cricketing word at large will be bearing down on them.

Graham Ford's visitors will be the first Irish team to strut their stuff on the international stage since Covid-19 ravaged the sporting calendar. 

And this ODI in Southampton is effectively the only international cricket show in town whether those watching are in Belfast, Birmingham or Bombay.

“Even if there is nobody going to be here there is a huge audience around the world. This is an opportunity to show where this Irish team is at,” said Balbirnie who captains the side. “It's a new enough team in the sense that we've got a lot of young guys coming through.

“And it's Ireland against England. For any Irish kid growing up, whether it was rugby or soccer, that was the fixture you wanted to play in and cricket is no different. The English boys look they are firing pretty well and my job is to get my guys going come two o'clock.”

There is excitement about the prospect of facing a team that is captained by fellow Dubliner Eoin Morgan and one that will present a fearsome challenge despite the absence of so many star names who are concentrating on England's test duties this summer.

Strength in depth is not the type of issue for England as it would be for Ireland. 

An England Lions selection destroyed Ireland's bowlers in a warm-up at today's venue earlier this week and there is the possibility that things could get ugly if the underdogs don't show some bite.

“It was certainly rusty and I suppose that was to be expected,” said the skipper of that hit-out. “The important thing is that we turn that around, break it down and make it as simple as possible for the guys. There's no doubt about it, the batters England have available to them are world class.

“They have this over-aggressive way about them when they come to bat and it is great for the spectators to watch but certainly puts our bowlers under the pump. Hopefully our guys can put that out of their minds and go out and show their skills.”

Balbirnie won't name his team until the toss today but exciting youngsters such as Harry Tector and Curtis Campher have been included in a 14-man panel and have impressed their older colleagues with their talents and body language in the Ageas bio-bubble this week.

It's nine years since Kevin O'Brien's fastest century in World Cup history accounted for England. He is just one of three survivors from that magical night in Bangalore, although seven of those who came close to repeating the trick in Malahide last summer are in line to feature here.

A win in any of these three ODIs would be embellished by the fact this is a World Cup Super League game and part of the long and slightly convoluted qualifying route to the next global 50-over event.

“It is going to be super tough,” said Balbirnie of that pathway. “It would be this team's greatest achievement to qualify through the top seven. That's the first aim. 

"We've got a lot of tough cricket to play and if we don't do it through that we have a qualifier in 2022.”

More in this section

Sport Newsletter

Latest news from the world of sport, along with the best in opinion from our outstanding team of sports writers

Sign up