Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98
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Harry Tector hardly watched a ball of the 2021 T20 World Cup after Ireland's elimination. "I couldn't turn it on," he recalls. "I couldn't think about who we could have been playing and where we could have been. It was probably as dark as I've been with cricket after that game."
The game in question was an eight-wicket defeat under the scorching Sharjah sun. Ireland, a full ICC member, collapsed from 62 for 0 after 7.1 overs to post 125 for 8 and were knocked out by Namibia, an Associate nation, whose successful run chase owed plenty to David Wiese's 28 not out off 14 balls. Four days after starting the tournament by thrashing Netherlands, Ireland were out.
"Almost everyone was in the same boat," Tector says. "I remember us getting off to an awesome start but we struggled through the middle and couldn't quite get down. Wiese hit a few bombs and put the nail in the coffin. We were just devastated."
Tector, Irish cricket's coming man and widely believed to be a future captain of the country, was batting out of position at No. 6, making 8 off six as the innings fell away. He had been in and out of the side, struggling to nail a spot down, and was left out of Ireland's next T20I squad for a two-match series against the United States in December.
"I took it really terribly," he says. "I was unapproachable, almost, for three days. I found it difficult to accept it: from being in the XI for the World Cup to being out of the 15 for the USA trip." He was recalled one game into the qualifying tournament for Australia, at which stage Ireland needed three consecutive wins to reach the World Cup.
Promoted to No. 4, Tector helped Ireland book their spot with cameos against Germany and Oman. "In hindsight, it was the little spark that I needed to give me an extra bit of motivation," he reflects. "When I came back in, I batted at No. 4, which suits me the best. In a roundabout way, it was probably the best thing that could have happened."
He has retained that spot ever since, with mixed returns. He started Ireland's home summer with 64 not out off 33 balls in a rain-reduced game against India, then hit 39 off 28 two days later. But in his next ten innings he only passed 25 once to finish the season averaging 25.33 with a strike rate of 133.33.
Simultaneously, Tector's 50-over form has been remarkable with two hundreds and seven fifties in his last 15 ODI innings. He is a tall, orthodox batter, strong off his hip or hitting through extra cover. "One-day cricket suits me more than T20," he explains. "It comes more naturally to me. I'd love to bring that consistency into T20 cricket, but all I want to do is win games of cricket for Ireland. That's all I've ever really wanted to do.
"With T20, you have to accept that you're not going to be as consistent. It's more about putting in match-winning performances, whether that's 80 off 50 balls or 20 off 10. I'm still learning. I'm only 22. I'm by no means the finished article and I'll still make mistakes more often than not. But I feel like I'm improving as a player."
Tector is a member of a generation of Ireland players who have not had access to county cricket in the way their predecessors did. A consequence of Ireland's ascent to Full-Member status was that their players no longer qualified as locals in county cricket, instead competing for a small number of overseas spots, and opportunities have been hard to come by.
As a result, they are increasingly reliant on opportunities in short-form leagues: Tector flew to Australia for the World Cup from Guyana, where he had been representing Barbados Royals in the CPL, while Josh Little, the promising left-arm seamer, has enjoyed stints in the Abu Dhabi T10, the LPL and the Hundred.
"The more players that we can get playing in these leagues, the better we're going to be as a country," Tector says. "You can see that with someone like Stirlo [Paul Stirling]. He's played in all these leagues and played for Middlesex for so long. He has such a vast wealth of experience that when he comes back to Ireland, he's the man. When I first came into the team, he was the guy you went to if you needed advice about batting."
At the CPL, he counted David Miller among his team-mates. "There's so many good players around and you spend so much time with them that even when you're not talking about cricket specifically, you're picking up little snippets. Just watching someone like him from the sidelines, you're opened up to ways of thinking you haven't heard before. I couldn't get enough of it."
The lingering frustration is that the reason underpinning why county cricket is inaccessibility to Tector and his peers - Ireland becoming a Test-playing nation - has felt more like a quirk than a lived reality: they have not played a Test since July 2019, and Tector is still uncapped. That should finally change next year: Ireland have five Tests scheduled between March 2023 and January 2024, including another against England at Lord's.
"It's the next thing on my bucket list," Tector says. "It's something that I really, really want to do. Growing up in Ireland, I pretty much watched every Test match England played, just because it was always on TV at home. For me, it's still the greatest test of you as a player. If you can score big runs at that level, you're one of the best players in the world, aren't you?"
There will be plenty of family pride when Tector's Test debut arrives: he is one of three Tector brothers to have captained Ireland at an Under-19 World Cup along with Jack and Tim. "Dad took us to YMCA CC [in Dublin] where he played and we fell in love with the game. After that, we were living in the back garden, playing cricket on the patio."
His younger sister, Alice, played for the Under-15s this summer and if she graduates to full international level, she could play in the same team as his girlfriend, Gaby Lewis. Together, Tector and Lewis are Irish cricket's own power couple. "There's far too much cricket in my life," he says, laughing.
"I've been with Gaby for over three years now but I haven't seen her much: the nature of our lives is that we spend a lot of time on the road. Her dad is my dad's best friend and that's how we know each other. Trying to switch off from cricket when the families are together is a challenge: both are filled with complete badgers."
Those families will be glued to the World Cup when Ireland's tournament gets underway against Zimbabwe in Hobart on Monday. "A success would be getting through the group," Tector says, "but we're in a good enough place that if we do get through, I don't see any reason we can't go out and win against pretty much every team that we face in the next group.
"That's the belief in the squad and that's changed in the last couple of months off the back of our performances. We genuinely believe we can beat these big teams: in the summer, we were a bounce of the ball from beating New Zealand and India. If we focus on the process and play some really good cricket, hopefully we'll qualify for the tournament proper and get some big wins."