Australia can be first upset of many - Murtagh
As a travelling spectator during the last Ashes series, Tim Murtagh watched James Anderson's dismantling of Australia's batting with no little awe. Called up to play for Ireland against the Australians in an ODI in Belfast on June 23, Murtagh now has the chance to emulate Anderson - and he has happy memories of a past meeting with Michael Clarke and company to aid his search for wickets.
Murtagh, 30, qualified for Ireland via his grandparents, leaving the move until a point in his career when he knew that an England call-up was out of the question. He had played for England at Under-19s level in 1999 but his medium-fast swing and seam has not caught the attention of the ECB since. England's oversight is Ireland's gain, at a time when Murtagh feels he is putting the ball more or less where he wants to.
"I played Under-19s and I had no contact or been selected for any squad after that, so my chance is gone now, it probably disappeared a few years ago," Murtagh told ESPNcricinfo. "They're a very strong team, but certainly having grown up through the age groups, starting at Surrey and moving to Middlesex, I had ambitions to play for England. But it's obvious they didn't want to utilise my services, so the Ireland thing came in. I probably should've done it a few years ago if I'm honest. It'll be a great opportunity to play international cricket.
"I'm a much better bowler now than I was four or five years ago … all bowlers get to a certain stage where you start to know your game a lot better than you did as a youngster and just feel more confident because of that. Over the last few weeks my bowling has felt in really good rhythm, so hopefully leading into that Australia game I'm peaking at the right time. The last couple of years I've bowled better than at any stage of my career, so that's some confidence I can take into the game in Belfast."
Murtagh's interest in the England team extended to a visit to Australia for the Ashes of 2010-11, where he watched Anderson intently. Clarke, Ricky Ponting and others struggled to counter Anderson's swing and accuracy, leaving Murtagh with hope that he could do something similar on what may prove to be a seaming Stormont pitch, given the rain that has drenched the UK and Ireland so far this summer. Murtagh is also bolstered by a tour match during Australia's 2010 ODI visit, in which he deceived Clarke and Ponting and returned a snappy 3 for 43.
"Any time you get Ricky Ponting, Michael Clarke, guys like that out, it sticks in your memory," Murtagh said. "It was a game I enjoyed. It was their first game in England for that ODI tour and they were a little rusty, and hopefully it will be more of the same [this time]. The Aussies will have come from back home from a series in the Caribbean, so it'll take them some time to adjust back to English conditions and hopefully that's something we can exploit in the game in Belfast.
"They're world-class players, but if we can catch them a little bit on the hop, it does take time to get used to conditions, especially with the amount of rain and dampness we've had around in the early part of summer, it might just take them a little bit of time to get used to that. We'll have a team meeting and go through specific plans to all these guys, we've been sent footage of all the players from Cricket Ireland just to have a look through and start thinking about it."
Ireland's summer is building towards the World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka, but there is also the 2015 World Cup beyond. Murtagh said the team he had joined in camp in Dubai earlier this year was growing from a group "punching above their weight" to one that will become a genuine international force. The match against Australia will provide a useful measure of that growth.
"The last few years watching them, they've punched above their weight and taken down some pretty big scalps in world cricket," Murtagh said. "I think now having spent a bit of time out with them in Dubai, they've got some genuinely top-class players. I know from first-hand experience Paul Stirling, who's at Middlesex as well, is I think one of the best T20 players going around at the moment and I'd be very surprised if someone doesn't snap him up in the IPL in years to come.
"We've got two games against Afghanistan in the summer as well, after the Australia game, and the points in those games will go towards that 2015 World Cup. Those are two very important games. Irish cricket wants to compete on the biggest stage now, qualifying for the T20 in Sri Lanka later this year is a massive thing, but that tournament in 2015 will be a massive thing as well. There's some genuine top-class players that can perhaps prove a few people wrong and provide a few upsets in the years to come."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here