Andrew Balbirnie hopes facilities can improve for young cricketers in Ireland

Captain and squad looking forward to Christmas tour in the US

Back at it then.

It's been a short break for Ireland's male cricketers following the T20 World Cup disappointment as they now set off on a Christmas tour to the USA and the West Indies.

T20s and 50 over games will be played but the main priority is preparation for the next T20 World Cup qualifiers in February.

Being in a sunnier Florida climate is perhaps an appealing prospect with more Covid restrictions coming into effect here. In addition, Ireland is the first ICC full member to tour the USA and that novelty certainly won't wear off any time soon.

"I don't like saying the term associate and full member because I think a lot of the stuff that we do doesn't warrant being a full member, particularly at home," explains skipper Andrew Balbirnie on the eve of the tour.

“We were that team that didn’t get a lot of cricket and craved these sort of internationals, so I think it’s going to be really exciting for both teams.

“There seems to be a lot of doom and gloom around here [Ireland] so it’s nice to get away for a month. It’ll be different, we’ve certainly never had to be away for Christmas through cricket but it’s a new place to tour and a new team to play so everyone’s excited to get going.

“Naturally if you’re in a World Cup game or against one of the top teams in the world the blood is flowing a bit more but we’ve got to try and make the guys understand that every game we play is important for some reason or another. Whether it’s to get us to a World Cup or to get more funding from Ireland or to get guys form, all our games have purpose and mean something.

“I had a look at some games [in America] and they look like really good wickets and high-scoring games. It’s a proper cricket stadium, probably better than anything we have here, so that’s an exciting part of it.”

It’s difficult to hear how the USA, an associate, non-Test playing nation may have a better playing facility than Ireland and not discuss the ongoing debate on how the standard of Ireland’s facilities is impeding player development.

Early in his career when Irish players didn’t have overseas status, Balbirnie played at Middlesex and was exposed to the gold-standard of development that is county cricket.

Now many young Irish players don’t have that opportunity; they learn their game on the uncompromising international stage. It is those young players for whom Balbirnie is desperate to see change in the form of more domestic cricket on better quality pitches.

“Looking at our squad, everyone is a better cricketer than I was at that age but I was exposed to county cricket, exposed to Lord’s day in, day out playing on really good wickets. I’m by no means a finished article but I know my game relatively well now, I’ve been through a really good county system. I know what makes me tick and where I need to work.

Good player

"These young guys are still trying to find out about their game and what makes them a good player. We've seen glimpses, look at Harry Tector during the summer scoring 70 [against South Africa], hitting [Kagiso] Rabada out of the ground.

“Abbotstown [new training facilities] will be available next summer, that’s going to be a huge boost but there aren’t nearly enough Wolves [Ireland A] fixtures and the interpro fixtures, they’re of a good standard, but we haven’t played on good wickets for a couple of years now. We’ve got to figure out pretty much on the job what sort of temperament these guys have.

“We’ve banged down the door numerous times about these concerns. We’re a full member by name and that’s pretty much it in my opinion, for whatever reason that is. I’m not at the top table, I just bring a team onto the pitch and try to win and we have our good days, but we also have our bad days.

"People know what these guys can do. They've seen it since they were kids but we're getting them to international cricket and we can't seem to push them on to become that world superstar or the next Paul Stirling.

“I can deal with not having a net myself but when I see guys who could be exceptional cricketers not getting those facilities and tools, that’s what hurts me.

“Ten years down the line I might be retired, and all this will be in place and great, I hope it is but it’s not at the moment and we’ve got to try and win games without that.

“Nothing suggests we’re a Test-playing nation bar the name. That would be the best Christmas present, if we get a couple of Tests confirmed.”

Tour Fixtures

22 December: USA Men v Ireland Men – 1st T20I (Florida; start 2pm local time)

• 23 December: USA Men v Ireland Men – 2nd T20I (Florida; start 7pm local time)

• 26 December: USA Men v Ireland Men – 1st ODI (Florida; start 10am local time)

• 28 December: USA Men v Ireland Men – 2nd ODI (Florida; start 2.30pm local time)

• 30 December: USA Men v Ireland Men – 3rd ODI (Florida; start 2.30pm local time)

January 8: 1st CG Insurance ODI – 9.30am (10.30am Eastern Caribbean / 2.30pm Ireland)

• January 11: 2nd CG Insurance ODI – 9.30am (10.30am Eastern Caribbean / 2.30pm Ireland)

• January 14: 3rd CG Insurance ODI – 9.30am (10.30am Eastern Caribbean / 2.30pm Ireland)

• January 16: T20I International – 4pm (5pm Eastern Caribbean / 9pm Ireland)