Paul Stirling: Ireland batsman on World Cups, Eoin Morgan and fulfilling his potential

By Brian JohnstonBBC Sport NI
Paul Stirling v Afghanistan
Stirling is Ireland's second highest T20 run scorer of all time

Ireland's leading batsman Paul Stirling should have been in Bulawayo playing in a ODI series against Zimbabwe.

But with sport at a standstill, he has been busy moving into a new house in Belfast where his touring experiences are helping him handle the lockdown.

"I think cricketers are quite used to this," he says.

"We go away for weeks and you're stuck in a hotel room, obviously you're allowed out but we often choose not to, so it's not really as difficult for us.

"I'm trying to get into a set routine by having a walk or run before midday," he says.

"Then doing some stretching or yoga, read a book for an hour before moving on to the electronics in the afternoon to get by.

"The whole situation is extremely worrying but there are far more important things going on than sport. A lot of people do miss it though when it's not there. Hopefully it'll be back live and on our TV screens before too long"

The 29-year-old spent 10 seasons playing county cricket for Middlesex at Lords but is now contracted to Cricket Ireland after being forced to choose between the two.

Paul Stirling
Stirling played for Middlesex during last year's T20 Blast

"Leaving Middlesex was the most difficult decision I've had to make in my life so far," he explains.

"It was a really tough call - heart versus head. There were a lot of positives living over in London and playing the county circuit but of course there were also many positives coming back home to my family and also playing for your country.

"It was a really difficult decision but it is up to me to make sure that I've made the right one".

Turning around the T20 fortunes and opening with O'Brien

Before the lockdown, Ireland had already played two Twenty20 series this year, sharing a series in the West Indies and beating Afghanistan in the format for the first time in seven years.

"Our T20 fortunes have really changed," Stirling says.

"We sat down as a squad and discussed how we were going to go about our business in this format. It has been our weakest suit in recent years.

"We did really well drawing the series 1-1 with the West Indies on their own patch. Along with India they are one of the best sides in the world with the power they have and to come out of the series on level terms was a really good effort and hopefully we can continue that as the year goes on."

In the first match in Grenada, Stirling and his opening partner Kevin O'Brien put on 154 for the first wicket setting a powerplay world record, racking up 93 runs in the first 6 overs.

"It is brilliant to open with Kevin," Stirling says.

"It is certainly different having to take a back seat. I can just go about my business.

Paul Stirling
Stirling and Kevin O'Brien have formed a dangerous partnership at the top of Ireland's order

"He always takes the positive options and you know he is only going to play the one way so it takes the pressure off you and the rest of the team.

"I scored 95 - it felt like an innings from my early days. I just went out to enjoy it and hit the ball with no fear of failure and it came off.

"I think there is cause for optimism, it's slow but we are making progress in T20.

"It's important that the younger players coming behind us need to be better and put serious pressure on us.

"You can see the likes of Harry Tector, Gareth Delany, Josh Little and Mark Adair are putting the pressure on. It's great to see and there could be no bigger incentive with hopefully two T20 World Cups coming up in the next few years."

"That win over Afghanistan was huge as well.

"Ireland and Afghanistan started off at the same level in our introduction to international cricket and went head-to-head pretty much for two or three years, but they have taken off and outperformed us and showed us what sort of level we need to get to.

"That last game went down to the super over and we got there. Hopefully that was a turn in the tide. "

Learning from Eoin Morgan and fulfilling potential

"With the prospect of little or no cricket in the coming months Stirling is hoping that he gets to line-out for Northants in the T20 Blast and then help Ireland through the T20 World Cup qualifier in Australia in October.

"I think when we looked at the fixtures there are a couple that stand out," Stirling says.

"The first two against Oman and Papua New Guinea are massive. If we can win those we will be more or less guaranteed to make it through to the next phase with all the top teams in the world and iconic venues like Sydney, Perth and Brisbane.

"Also, it would automatically qualify us for the next World Cup"

With time on his hands and no Test cricket on the horizon, Ireland's second highest run scorer has been reminiscing about the historic Test at Lords last July, when the men in green shocked the cricketing world for a couple of days.

"I've seen a few highlights on social media and it really does bring the memories back," he says.

"It was such a special time. It's hard to put into words, you sort of float through it - an amazing achievement for the first two days, but it obviously didn't go our way on the last day.

"I remember on the third day saying to Tim Murtagh, who knew Lords so well, that with the cloud cover and the coolness it wasn't going to be easy and, of course, that proved to be the case"

Paul Stirling v England
Stirling opened the batting for Ireland during their historic four-day Test against England at Lord's last summer

Chasing a victory target of 182 in bowler friendly conditions Ireland were dismissed for only 38.

The men in green are due to play three ODI's against reigning world champions England in September and Stirling is relishing the challenge of going up against his old Middlesex team-mate and good friend Eoin Morgan.

"Eoin has proved himself to be one of the best leaders in world cricket and in world sport," Stirling says.

"Coming out and winning the World Cup we can only learn from him.

"I am lucky enough to be in regular contact with Eoin. Hopefully, I can get a few snippets from him and I'll see what he can bring when I see him in September.

Morgan Stirling
Dublin-born England captain Eoin Morgan has played with Stirling at Middlesex

"As a player he is right up there, he was one of my childhood heroes growing up.

"I remember there was a computer system coming in and you could watch everyone's batting back and I clicked on Eoin Morgan, and all the balls he faced, and watched him for hours on end.

"To go on and play a few times with him for Ireland was amazing. Currently his stock is as high as it gets. He has won a World Cup for England and will be in big demand as the years go on even when he stops playing."

Many shrewd judges are surprised that Stirling has never been picked up by any of the IPL franchises.

His strike rate is second only to David Warner of the eight batsmen who have got past the 2,000 run mark in T20's. However, it's something he doesn't dwell on.

"If I'm being honest with myself I think I haven't fully realised my potential," he explains.

"So that is the challenge over the next 8-10 years. To try and reach my potential and if I do that, then who knows."

Top Stories

Also in NI Sport