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‘We’ve got to find a way to play pretty quickly’ – Andrew Balbirnie looks forward to Ireland playing Test cricket after prolonged gap

'We've got to find a way to play pretty quickly' - Andrew Balbirnie looks forward to Ireland playing Test cricket after prolonged gap

Andrew Balbirnie. (Photo Source: Cricket Ireland)

Ireland Men will fly out to Bangladesh tomorrow for a seven-match, three format series – a series which features the squad’s first Test Match since 2019. Captain Andrew Balbirnie is looking forward to once again playing “the purest form of the game.”

The Test Match, scheduled for 4-8 April 2023, will be Ireland Men’s first Test since that remarkable game against England at Lord’s in 2019. It is the first-ever Test Match to be played between Ireland and Bangladesh, which is part of the first multi-format series the two sides have played at senior level.

Along with the Test, the schedule will also feature a warm-up fixture on 15 March, then three one-day internationals, and three T20 Internationals.

Speaking ahead of the squad’s departure, Balbirnie said.

“I think Test cricket is the purest form of the game. I grew up putting on a pair of whites, getting white pads out and going out and hitting a red ball. A lot of my cricket education was in red ball cricket over in England, playing a lot of second team cricket with Middlesex, and then a handful of games in the first team.

“However, many in this group of players we have now were never exposed to that. A couple of them were, but not many. They were brought up on white ball cricket. So it certainly is different for us, but a lot of the best test matches that were played around the world in the last year are still, in my opinion, the most exciting parts of cricket.

“It’s the ebb and flow of a four or five day match. There can be sessions where it just meanders, but by the end of the test match it can still be all to play for with, often, all three results possible. It’s something we want more of, and hopefully we can play pretty good cricket over the next few months, especially in the Test arena.

“There’s obviously a lot of excitement about it around the squad. The anticipation is building as we head into a bit of the unknown. There is a bit of talk among the group about how we want to go out and play the games. We’ve got to find a way to play pretty quickly, but also make sure everyone buys into that way of playing so that after our two or three Test matches this year, we can say we went out and tried to play a certain way, and if it comes off, great. If it doesn’t, we still stick to the processes of how we want to play.”

Balbirnie has scored two half-centuries in his last three Test innings (82 v Afghanistan and 55 v England) – how does he compare the knocks:

“They were both very different. I think I still hold a lot of frustration with that Afghanistan one because I felt that I should have got a big hundred and got us into a really commanding position in the Test, but it wasn’t to be. The Lord’s one was obviously special because of what had happened an hour or two before that. So both are equally as special.

“But if you pushed me, I would probably say the Lord’s one was the better innings, just because of the occasion, the venue, just the day that we had and to be able to contribute to that day in history for Irish cricket was pretty cool. But in hindsight, they were both in losing causes, so I don’t really dwell too much on them.”

Balbirnie played recently in the Bangladesh Premier League – did he pick much up that he could take into this series?

“It was very different, really enjoyable. The cricket was great. I’d played a couple of other tournaments – one in the US and a couple of stints over at Glamorgan. The BPL was really good to dip my toe into franchise cricket. There were some challenges, like there is with any sort of tour or tournament. But yes, I think it was really beneficial for me to get a taste of it and hopefully put myself into a shop window, because it’s an evolving game, particularly T20 cricket. You want to be involved as much as you can.

“It obviously helped that we’re going to be going to Bangladesh this weekend, and I was there to see first-hand a couple of their players, some of the grounds and conditions we’re going to come up against in the next week or two, and just chat with some of the local guys about how they go about playing certain spinners or seamers. It was really beneficial. I think over the next week leading up to the first One-Day international we’re going to be chatting as a batting group, a bowling group and as a team and any little things that I picked up on in Bangladesh or Curtis (Campher), as he was there as well, will only be beneficial to the group.”

Balbirnie hasn’t played senior international cricket in either Bangladesh or Sri Lanka (where they travel onwards to afterwards). Is he looking forward to testing his skills in these new conditions?

“Yeah. I’ve only played one game against Sri Lanka in international cricket, and that was at the T20 World Cup two years ago. As Irish cricketers, it’s always great to go to these countries that are so passionate about the game. In Ireland it’s getting bigger, and we see that when we play the big internationals in Dublin that it really is a special atmosphere, but to go to places where cricket is the only sport that people kind of watch and involve themselves in, it’s pretty cool. And when we get out there, there’ll certainly be a bit of hype, and that’s new for some of our players. But it’s hugely exciting because you get to go out and showcase your skills against a really passionate support base. Bangladesh and Sri Lanka are two really, really good teams in their own conditions.

“Bangladesh’s ODI record at home is incredible over the last four or five years, I think bar their last England series recently. They’ve won the majority of their series for a number of years, so it’ll be challenging, and it’ll be testing as it’s a long tour. It’s a six week tour that has its own challenges off the pitch, so we’ll have to keep ourselves entertained, and make sure that once we get on the pitch, everyone’s ready to do what we need to do to. The beauty of white ball cricket is that it’s always evolving. Test Cricket probably hasn’t had had that recently, but now we’ve seen a shift and it’s going to be really exciting to see how that continues. And even if we’re only playing a few tests, we’re going to have a chance to try to stamp our own authority on a really amazing game.”

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