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Captain Balbirnie aims to shake off the tag of fighting 'little Ireland'

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Andy Balbirnie. Photo: Sportsfile

Andy Balbirnie. Photo: Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Andy Balbirnie. Photo: Sportsfile

For an extraordinary 11-year period William Porterfield captained Ireland, leading the side on a voyage that would have seemed inconceivable during the days of amateurism. When Porterfield stepped down a few months after that historic Lord's Test against England in July last year, the role of leading Ireland fell to Andy Balbirnie.

"It's definitely demanding but at the same time it's exciting," Balbirnie reflects. "It's definitely different. William's someone who's been involved in Irish cricket and been at the heart of Irish cricket for all the recent successes that we've had."

Balbirnie's role, essentially, is to lead Irish cricket into a new age, as the team moves on from the generation which clinched famous World Cup victories over Pakistan, England and the West Indies from 2007-15. Only three of the XI that beat England in Bangalore are likely to be in the XI that meet England in the first ODI at the Ageas Bowl today. As Ireland entrust a new generation, Balbirnie sees his role as creating an environment in which young talent can dare to attack.

"I'm not trying to reinvent the wheel, I'm just trying to come in and maybe bring in new thoughts and a fresh, fresh voice and a bit of reassurance to the players."

In Balbirnie's only series yet as ODI captain, in the Caribbean in January, there were glimpses of a new team emerging. Ireland lost the series 3-0 but lost the second ODI by one-wicket after controversial umpiring decisions and then shared the T20 series 1-1.

"There were young guys coming in who were up for the fight," Balbirnie says. "That's what I like to see. I'd like to think that I've influenced the younger generation to come into the squad and express themselves."

Ireland will need to summon all these traits in their three ODIs against England. Two players - Harry Tector (20), considered the best batting talent to emerge since Balbirnie and Paul Stirling a decade ago, and 21-year-old all-rounder Curtis Campher, who was raised in South Africa - are set to make their ODI debuts, joining wicketkeeper Lorcan Tucker and Gareth Delany who made their debuts last year.

"Our young guys have got to come in and compete against the world champions in their backyard and there's no hiding place," Balbirnie reflects. "They're ready to stand up and be counted. That's a really great attitude to have. The group that we have now they have showed that fearless attitude."

Ultimately, Balbirnie aims to shift the mindset, transforming the side from one capable of the occasional upset to one consistently beating other full members.

"We don't have hundreds who are potentially capable of playing for Ireland so it's important that what I do is just instill positivity and make sure that people are doing the right things," Balbirnie says. "And just making sure that they're playing with a clear head and going out and enjoying themselves - not that they weren't enjoying themselves. But we're kind of at the stage now where I want to take it past, you know, 'little Ireland coming out and trying to fight against the top teams'. I want to be consistently beating the top teams."

Irish Independent