Andy Balbirnie proud of Ireland 'character' but already looking to World Cup challenge

Ireland captain reveals James McCollum wanted to bat in protective boot to aid Andy McBrine century effort

Andrew Miller
Andrew Miller
Andy Balbirnie, Ireland's captain, praised the character that his team had shown in digging deep on the third and final day of the Lord's Test, and forcing England to bat again when an innings defeat had seemed to be on the cards overnight.
But, he added, Ireland's eventual ten-wicket loss had "not been preparation" for the challenge that awaits next week at the World Cup Qualifiers in Zimbabwe.
The smart money had been on a swift denouement on Saturday morning, after Ireland had resumed their second innings on 97 for 3 - effectively four-down, following James McCollum's match-ending ankle injury - and still 255 runs from asking England to bat again, following their formidable total of 524 for 4 in just 82.4 overs.
But, after Harry Tector had recovered from his first-day duck to set the tone with an attractive 51, the seventh-wicket pairing of Mark Adair and Andy McBrine combined for a 163-run stand - Ireland's highest in seven men's Tests - that took both batters to the brink of a deserved place on the Lord's honours boards.
In the end, neither quite made it. Adair feathered an attempted ramp shot through to Jonny Bairstow for 88, while McBrine, who had insisted that McCollum didn't risk exacerbating his injury by attempting to help him to three figures, was eventually left high and dry on 86 not out when the No. 11 Graham Hume was bowled by Stuart Broad shortly after tea.
"He had the pads on, he had the boot on, it was all a bit chaotic in there," Balbirnie said of McCollum's potential late involvement in the innings, when it seemed he might emulate the likes of Graeme Smith and Colin Cowdrey of yesteryear, and come out to bat at nine-down in spite of his serious injury.
"Andy actually came in at tea and said he doesn't want him to bat. They're good mates and he [McCollum] is really sore. He really didn't want him to hobble out on the boot, but it was eventually agreed that if it was one hit away, that he would go out, and just hold up an end.
"And so it was chaos. He came out on the balcony with the crutches at tea-time and a couple of members looked over and couldn't really believe what they were seeing. It was quite entertaining.
"If the shoe was on the other foot, if you'll pardon the pun, I think Andy would have gone out for Prince [McCollum]," he continued. "But it wasn't to be. In the end it didn't really matter, but it was fairly chaotic at tea-time."
Nevertheless, Ireland's doughty displays gave another healthy Lord's crowd an entertaining day in the sun, and continued a trend of tail-end resistance from their Test team, with three of their highest partnerships in Test cricket all coming for the seventh wicket.
"[The dressing-room] was a tough place to be yesterday, in the evening particularly, but we showed character today," Balbirnie said. "We've showed in our Test career that we have that character - and that bouncebackability - but unfortunately for us, it's when our backs are against the wall, that's almost when we seem to produce our best cricket.
"We need to find a way to not get so far behind the eight-ball that you need to really scrap it out. But get to 12 ahead, it's a small win to get them batting again. And certainly, after three days like that, you have to take those small wins."
Much of the build-up to the Test had centred on Ireland's lack of first-class experience - most of the squad hadn't played a single first-class game in four years until their three Tests in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka in April. And while Balbirnie reiterated his call for more red-ball opportunities, particularly on pitches such as Lord's that don't offer much sideways movement, he made it clear that a return to a white-ball focus was now the team's over-riding priority.
"I love being here and I've loved playing here, don't get me wrong, but yesterday was really tough," Balbirnie said. "You're looking around in the change-room, wondering what we can do here to get wickets to stop the run-rate. You want to go into a game knowing that, if you play your best cricket, you can be really close to beating them. But I'm not stupid. Everyone saw there was a gap and we have to close that as quick as possible. That's probably going to come from us playing more red-ball cricket. It's obvious and hopefully it happens."
For now, though, Ireland have a four-day turnaround back home, before flying out to Bulawayo on Friday to begin the campaign that truly matters. Balbirnie's men play two warm-up games against USA and Netherlands on June 13 and 15, before their World Cup qualification campaign gets underway against Oman on June 19.
They then play further fixtures against Scotland, Sri Lanka and the UAE in the space of the following eight days, with the top three teams progressing to the Super Six stage, and from there a shot at securing one of the two remaining berths at the main event in India this winter.
And with that fixture pile-up already on his mind, Balbirnie was blunt on the subject of his Lord's experience. "I wouldn't say it's been preparation," he said. "I've played in these tournaments before. It's really cut-throat. If you don't turn up for a couple of games, your qualifying tournament is over. So the guys need to be switched on, and I think they will be by the time we get out there.
"It's 9am starts, very early-morning stuff, the games are thick and fast, in a sporadic sort of a schedule. I've struggled over the years to differentiate between our [Test and white-ball] groups because it's many of the same names, but for the one-day team, next week is huge. I said at the start of my tenure that qualifying for that World Cup will be my greatest achievement as captain, and we've got three weeks to try to do that."
For the time being, Balbirnie added, he'd be switching off from cricket in a particularly homely fashion. "My wife has told me I've got a crib to paint," he said. "We have a baby coming in August so that'll take up most of my week. But it'll be just enough time to switch the pads and head out."

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket