Now Ireland has Test status you do not need to move abroad as Eoin did, claims captain Balbirnie
Ireland captain Andy Balbirnie believes that the landscape of Irish cricket has changed since Eoin Morgan made the switch to play for England 11 years ago.
“Now that we have Test status, I’d like to think that you don’t need to go over, as such, as you had to in that age,” Balbirnie said. “With central contracts now, you can make a living playing cricket in Ireland. It’s obviously not as much as you could get if you captain England, but you’ve got to be a unique player to captain England, and you’ve got to be a very, very special player to win a World Cup with England. I’d like to think that if you’re born in Ireland and you’re raised through the Irish cricket system, then we won’t let that slip.”
Morgan, 33, has been a big influence on the career of Balbirnie, 29. They both grew up in Dublin and later played together for Middlesex.
Balbirnie said: “I grew up watching him play Irish cricket, I was always a bit in awe of him and how good he was. He’s someone that I wanted to be like when I was 10 or 11. He obviously moved over here for the right reasons, and he’s been an incredible success.
“You look at what he’s achieved – not just for English cricket, but for Irish cricket as well. To lead England to the World Cup – a lot of Irish people might not understand that, but from our point of view he’s definitely an impressive guy, albeit you’d want him to play for Ireland.”
Balbirnie was long considered in Ireland to be one of the most promising batting talents of his generation. His classical technique earned a contract with MCC Young Cricketers and then Middlesex. But while
Balbirnie made his international debut in 2010 and impressed in the 2015 World Cup, he took until 2017 to become an automatic selection for the one-day international side.
He has since blossomed into Ireland’s senior batsman, alongside Paul Stirling. Batting at No3, Balbirnie is averaging 41 in one-day internationals since the start of 2018, hitting all five of his ODI centuries in this time, including 135 against West Indies and 145 not out against Afghanistan’s formidable spin attack last year.
“At the start of my career I was always a bit tentative,” he said. “I was apprehensive about the No 3 role, didn’t really like it. And now I absolutely love it.”
Balbirnie’s fine form and cricket acumen led to his elevation to the captaincy last year, when William Porterfield stepped down. Porterfield had held the post for 11 years, during which time Ireland graduated from a team with no professional contracts to a Test nation.
“I’d like to think that I’ve influenced the younger generation to express themselves,” Balbirnie said. “The young group that we have now have showed that fearless attitude when it comes to these games.”
Aggressive batsman Gareth Delany – who hit four successive sixes in a T20 against West Indies in January – and 20-year-old batsman Harry Tector, who should make his ODI debut against England, are regarded as particularly exciting. But while Ireland have Test status, finances – Ireland receive under half of what Zimbabwe receive and under one-third of what most full-member nations get from the International Cricket Council – means that most these matches will be in white-ball cricket. Ireland’s inaugural Test against Pakistan in 2018 cost the board a net £600,000. Balbirnie also knows that Ireland’s progress over his tenure will largely be determined by how they perform in the oneday World Cup competitions. “That 2023 World Cup is a huge carrot – by however means we qualify, that is something that I want to say that we managed to achieve,” he said. “If we win the World Cup in 2023, that can be the cricket equivalent of Leicester City.”
Guiding light: Eoin Morgan remains an inspirational figure in his native Ireland