Middlesex’s latest Irish import Andrew Balbirnie hopes for his big break at Lord’s
The path from Dublin to Lord’s is a well-trodden one – and Middlesex have another Irish import aiming to follow in several sets of illustrious footsteps.
First to blaze a trail across the Irish Sea was Ed Joyce, who spent almost a decade at Middlesex and captained the county to Twenty20 Cup success in 2008 before moving on to Sussex.
Next came Eoin Morgan, now Middlesex’s limited-overs captain and one of England’s top 20-over and 50-over batsmen, and the hard-hitting Paul Stirling, a mainstay of Ireland’s international side.
Now another Dubliner, batsman Andrew Balbirnie, is determined to make the breakthrough at Middlesex this summer after impressing in the second XI last season.
“When I was growing up and playing cricket in Dublin, you looked for the scores and saw Ed Joyce making hundred after hundred for Middlesex,” he said.
“He definitely set the benchmark for the Irish guys coming over and since then there’s been a great link between Ireland and Middlesex – it’s such a homely club and everyone makes you feel so welcome.
“When I had the chance to come over here I didn’t have to think twice about it. Now I’ve got to work as hard as I can and take my opportunity when I get it.
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“We’ve got so much strength in depth, with some top-class batsmen, and I know it will be hard to get into the first team. There are players pushing for higher honours and deservedly so.
“But this is a runs business. If I can do well in the second XI, then I’m confident I might get a look in towards mid-season, when there’s a lot of cricket bunched together and there might be opportunities for the younger guys.”
The 23-year-old right-hander – who will be playing club cricket for North Middlesex when county commitments permit – was a regular member of the team that shared the Second XI Championship trophy with Lancashire last season.
However, Balbirnie was more prolific in the shorter forms of the game, heading the batting averages in the Second XI Trophy and finishing just behind Adam Rossington in Twenty20.
That is unsurprising given that, like his compatriots, he developed in an environment geared towards limited-overs cricket – but Balbirnie feels his experiences in England are gradually shifting that focus.
“I’d played one-day cricket all the way up in Dublin and it did take me a couple of months or so to get used to the longer format of the game,” he admitted.
“It’s a matter of being more controlled, knowing when to play your shots and you get a feel for it watching other guys bat for long periods of time, because it is painful to be out in the field watching lads get runs.
“Before I came to Middlesex, I was fortunate enough to spend a summer with the MCC Young Cricketers and obviously I’ve played more three-day stuff since then, which is great because you have more time to bat.
“That’s probably my favourite format now, which wasn’t the case when I came over, and I feel I’ve got better at it. I think playing the longer form of the game is the ultimate test.”
Balbirnie’s versatility on the field should strengthen his prospects of a first XI call-up – as well as bowling off-breaks, he has also donned the wicketkeeper’s gloves when required.
He added: “You don’t see many players now who are just keepers – they tend to bat at six or seven and are quite destructive batsmen.
“It’s a very hard skill and we’re quite lucky here in that we have John Simpson and Adam Rossington, who are two of the best young keeper-batsmen out there.
“Last year I kept for a week or two in the second XI and it is another part of my game I can use. If two of the lads went down in quick succession I’d happily fill the void, as long as they trust me with the gloves!”