Counties benefit Ireland World T20 bid
Ireland captain William Porterfield has praised the impact of county cricket on his side ahead of the World T20 qualifiers.
Porterfield brings his side to the tournament as favourites and near-certainties to claim one of six places available at the World T20 in Bangladesh next year, and Porterfield said opportunities in county cricket have been of great benefit to Ireland.
Seven of Ireland's 15-man squad have a county deal, including Porterfield who is contracted to Warwickshire until 2015 and the chance to play regular high-quality cricket, including in the Friends Life t20 against many of the world's best players, has gone a long way to helping Ireland develop into the leading Associate nation.
"You can go through our side now and there is a high percentage that has played in county cricket at a very high level," Porterfield said. "That does help in terms of playing cricket day in day out and being competitive. It helps certainly in performing well as a cricketer."
Much criticism has been levied at England for selecting players who have cut their teeth in international cricket with Ireland but, with an absence of a first-class system in Ireland, the English domestic game has been a leading factor in Ireland's improvement.
And in Tim Murtagh, Ireland have been able to attract an English-born player who has made his name in international cricket. Since making his debut in June 2012, Murtagh has established himself with the new ball for Ireland.
"Tim has come in and played really well," Porterfield said. "He's had a fantastic start to his international career with Ireland, and long may that continue. He's been a seasoned county pro in the UK and churns out wickets and overs year in year out for Middlesex."
Other members of the Ireland squad with county contracts include Gary Wilson, who enjoyed an excellent season at Surrey including his second first-class century, George Dockrell, often playing as Somerset's specialist spinner, Sussex captain Ed Joyce and Leicestershire wicketkeeper Niall O'Brien.
"Gary Wilson has had a great year with Surrey," Porterfield said. "He has broken into the first team and held his position in the side as a batter with Steve Davies retaining the gloves. To play the whole season as a batter is a great effort for him."
Two other players with vast amounts of county experience were described as "big players" by Porterfield in T20 - Middlesex's Paul Stirling and Kevin O'Brien, who has enjoyed spells at Gloucestershire, Nottinghamshire, Somerset and Surrey.
"In terms of Twenty20, the two big players for us - it has to be Kevin O'Brien and Paul Stirling, they're two lads who can play the ropes at will and can score you hundreds off very little balls in this format so they're going to be two massive players for ourselves."
Porterfield said qualification for the World T20 is "non-negotiable" for Ireland and his players, many of whom can draw on their experiences in the Friends Life t20 in England, should see them safely through to Bangladesh.