Green shoots for Ireland in potential of youthful trio
Whisper it quietly but something special is stirring in Irish cricket with the emergence of a talented trio of youngsters, and more besides, giving rise to the belief that the years of stagnation, decline and even despair in some quarters could be coming to an end.
Whether Mark Adair, Lorcan Tucker and James McCollum kick on and form the nucleus of a new golden generation remains to be seen but their performances this summer, and particularly in two victories over Zimbabwe this week, have shown they have the game and the mettle.
A third win against Zimbabwe in Belfast tomorrow will not only deliver a series whitewash and confirm Ireland's rise to 11th place in the one-day international rankings, it will also add to a feeling that the Boys in Green have turned a corner.
Adair is the brightest prospect. It would be daft to compare the all-rounder to the likes of Ian Botham or Andy Flintoff but he has that same swashbuckling box-office appeal, as befits someone who grew up in Holywood (albeit the village near Belfast, with only one 'l').
When captain William Porterfield had to choose between Adair and veteran Kevin O'Brien to bowl the final over at Stormont on Thursday, he threw the ball to the 23-year-old and must have been delighted with a near-perfect response from someone who relished the challenge.
"That's the best final over from a youngster that I've seen," man-of-the-match Tim Murtagh said. "I've been in that situation lots of times and probably lost a game for whatever team I was playing for."
McCollum is settling in as Paul Stirling's opening partner and top-scored with 73 in the second game while Pembroke wicketkeeper Lorcan Tucker also scored his maiden ODI 50 and may already have done enough to keep the gloves for the Test match against England at Lord's.
Ireland also have reserves in Josh Little, a 19-year-old left armer who impressed on his ODI debut against England in May, Shane Getkate, finally winning a senior cap 12 years after his first U-19 World Cup and A-team captain Harry Tector.
With qualification for the World Cup three years away, much can change but
given Afghanistan's exposure in the 50 overs game, Ireland's biggest threat may come from Scotland and the Netherlands.