Paul Robert Stirling
September 03, 1990, Belfast
Right hand Bat
Right arm Offbreak
Paul Stirling has long been recognised as a formidable cricketing talent both in Ireland and beyond. Before his 23rd birthday, he had already hit two ODI centuries against Pakistan. With a natural swagger and belligerence allied to a portly build, Stirling has evoked comparisons with Jesse Ryder. He generates huge power with seemingly little effort and is particularly strong lashing the ball straight or pulling the ball over midwicket.
Born in Belfast, Stirling made his ODI debut at the age of just 17. He played for Ireland in the World Twenty20 in England in 2009, and then signed a three-year contract with Middlesex in December 2009. The following year he gave further notice of his talent by thumping a 134-ball 177 for Ireland against Canada in Toronto - the highest ODI score made by an Irishman. While he struggled in the 2011 World Cup, he ended the tournament with 101 in Ireland's victory against the Netherlands, and a century in Ireland's ODI series against Pakistan in May 2011 had Waqar Younis purring. He added another against the same opponents in Ireland's tie with Pakistan two years later. Stirling also revealed his big match temperament with a pair of blistering innings - 79 off 38 balls and 76 off 43 balls - against Afghanistan in the finals of the World T20 qualifiers in 2012 and 2013.
While Stirling made a fine impression for Middlesex in limited overs cricket, he languished in the second eleven in the Championship. But when he got a chance in 2014, he averaged 43.87 in six games, suggesting that he was capable of managing the transition between the white and red ball. Although he has been troubled by a back injury, which has limited his ability to bowl, Stirling is also a highly competent back-up offspinner. He has frequently bowled his full allocation of overs for Ireland in ODIs and, with 1-45 from ten overs, was Ireland's most economical bowled during their victory over England in Bangalore in the 2011 World Cup.
Stirling had long been a curious case in first-class cricket. The discrepancy between his first-class and limited overs returns for Middlesex had been infuriating. Before his maiden Championship hundred, he averaged 27.77 for the county against the red ball, but 41.46 in one-day cricket. So that century, against Yorkshire at Lord's in 2017, was a perfect celebration of Ireland's elevation to Test status which was formally confirmed on the other side of the Thames, at The Oval, a few days later. "It's about time I did this and also about time I started to score more consistently. That said, I don't want to take away my natural instinct to play attacking cricket. That's the balance I have to find."
Ireland were eagerly seeking to develop club standards as their status in international cricket grew but another century upon Stirling's return to play for his boyhood club, Cliftonville, caused brief resentment later that summer as rules excluded players with recent first-class experience from playing at this standard. "Farcical" was how a tweet from Armagh described it after Stirling bulldozed their attack. Stirling captained Ireland for the first time in 2018 at the Hong Kong Sixes, and often found himself filling in when a first-choice skipper was elsewhere.
As his belligerent form in white-ball internationals continued, Stirling found himself forced to make an unexpected choice in 2019 on account of Ireland's ascent to Test status: either, he could continue to play for Ireland, but count as an overseas player in county cricket, or he could renew his Middlesex contract but forego his international career. He admitted he was "baffled", but chose the former before signing a short-term deal to play for Northants as their second overseas player in the 2020 T20 Blast, despite being born in Belfast and holding a British passport.
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