Saturday 24 August 2019

Young guns ready for step up to replace departing greats

Ger Siggins

The Lord's Test will make a glorious full-stop on some fine careers, although others may hang on for the World T20 qualifiers at the end of the year. One way or another, the likes of William Porterfield (34), Kevin O'Brien (35), Gary Wilson (33), Boyd Rankin (35 this week) and Tim Murtagh (37) have little time left in green.

The huge expansion in the fixture lists, and the fact that every white-ball game from next year will count towards tournament qualification, means Ireland need 15 to 20 battle-hardened players at their disposal to ensure they don't slide towards ICC oblivion. That process probably should have begun by now but the trite baby and bathwater cliché has been used to justify clinging to some who should have been spooling down the drain long ago.

It means Ireland will go into the new era with some youngsters underdone. That's unfortunate, but the upside is that young talent has emerged and gives cause for optimism. Over the next five years, expect these five to become Ireland's core players in various formats.

James McCollum (24) made his debut in the series against Afghanistan this spring. He came into the Test side and looked comfortable, playing some exquisite shots. A few technical flaws were exposed in this summer's ODIs but if he works hard he's there for the long run.

Mark Adair (23) and Josh Little (19) sprang to prominence with starring roles in the ODI against England in May. Such performances in the past would have led to county contracts, but that route is now closed to Irish players.

Adair has been down that road before, having six seasons at Warwickshire but playing just a dozen first-team games in that time. A late injury to Stuart Thompson thrust him into the squad for that Malahide game and the coach took a punt on him to play. He responded with a breezy 32 and stayed in the team for five more ODIs in which his bowling came to fore. He could yet fit the bill as a white-ball replacement for Kevin O'Brien.

Little's demolition of England's top order was an eye-opener for a player whose commitment had been doubted by successive Leinster Lightning coaches. His skiddy left-arm pace took 4-45, including Eoin Morgan for a duck.

Gareth Delany (22) is another T20 specialist who hits a big ball. He has fought his way to open for Lightning and showed his fearlessness two weeks ago in a brilliant 56 against Middlesex. His accurate leg-spin is also developing well and may become his main suit.

It's astonishing to think that Harry Tector (19) is still a teenager, so long has he been holding responsible roles. He captained YMCA at 16, Ireland U19s at 17, and Ireland Wolves on his debut, aged 18, and in every one of his 20 'A' caps since.

It is clear he is being groomed to take over the senior side at some stage, but first he will have to fight his way through a crowded field of all-rounders. Being under the tutelage of the great Kamal Merchant means his spin bowling is excellent, but it is his batting that is likely to be his strongest hand in the long run. His century in Colombo in January against a Sri Lanka A attack that included three men currently at the World Cup, and two other international bowlers, was described as "breath-taking" by a senior coach.

They will be joined by others, including whoever wins a fascinating battle for the gloves between Lorcan Tucker (24) and Neil Rock (18), promising fast bowlers David Delany (21) and Fionn Hand (20), and batsmen Aaron Gillespie (22), Jack Tector (22), Stephen Doheny (20) and Oliver Metcalfe (18).

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