Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98
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Lorcan Tucker had to pinch himself when he arrived in St Kitts for the Caribbean Premier League last month and looked around the Trinbago Knight Riders dressing room.
Tucker, a softly-spoken Dubliner, was a last-minute replacement for Tim David and found himself surrounded by West Indies T20 royalty in the form of Kieron Pollard, Nicholas Pooran, Andre Russell, Sunil Narine, Dwayne Bravo. He struck up a friendship with Martin Guptill, and Phil Simmons was head coach.
"It was a serious roster," Tucker says, back in his Ireland tracksuit and speaking to ESPNcricinfo before the washed-out first ODI against England at Headingley. "Gosh, some of those lads… They are such impressive players. It opened my eyes to what's out there in terms of cricket at the moment. It's pretty exciting."
The move came about, in part, through Simmons' Irish links: he was Ireland's coach between 2007 and 2015, the year before Tucker's international debut. "He still had so much time for Irish cricket - and Irish sport in general, wanting to know how the Rugby World Cup was going. The respect they have for him in Trinidad is pretty special."
Tucker clicked with Guptill over a shared interest in baseball. "My brother studied in America and got really into it," Tucker says. "He's a big LA Dodgers fan, and Martin was a big [New York] Yankees fan. As you get to know people, you can approach them and talk to them about their cricket; it was great to bounce ideas off someone so experienced."
He quickly realised that he had watched most of his team-mates on TV while growing up. "But the way they organised the team and the culture, it felt like everyone had a voice," he says. "They were really encouraging like that. It felt like you could give your opinion if you wanted to, and everyone was really open-minded."
In Ireland's T20 side, Tucker is an attacking No. 3. But he was asked to anchor from No. 4. "There were players all around me who were so talented and such big hitters. It was my responsibility to hold it all together through the middle, to make sure there were no big collapses."
He made 150 runs across five innings, and TKR won six of the seven games he featured in. They beat Guyana Amazon Warriors in Qualifier 1 on Wednesday night, and will play in the final on Sunday night. "It was great to be part of quite a successful campaign," he says.
A profile of Tucker in the Irish Sunday Times earlier this year painted a picture of a cerebral character who avoids social media and only owns a smartphone for the sake of being on the national team's logistics chat. "Some people live a glitzier lifestyle than I do," he says. "But there's room for plenty of different personalities in sport."
This has been Tucker's first year involved in franchise cricket, having only previously represented Ireland and Leinster Lightning as a pro. He played for MI Emirates in the ILT20, missing a T20I series in Zimbabwe as a result, and hopes that further opportunities will emerge this winter. "It's so refreshing," he says.
"You spend so much time on the international circuit with the same group of lads, so to get the chance to be part of a new group and see fresh takes and angles on things - especially in T20 cricket, which moves so quickly - has been brilliant. There's constant access to new people every couple of months in these different tournaments."
The last 12 months have marked Tucker's breakthrough. At last year's T20 World Cup, Tucker played a forgotten hand in helping England qualify for the semi-finals, rescuing Ireland from 25 for 5 against Australia with 71 not out off 48 balls to minimise their net-run-rate boost. He has also played his first four Tests, making a hundred on debut in Bangladesh.
Moving forwards, Tucker will have to juggle his involvement in franchise leagues with Ireland commitments. He is not yet in a position where he is contemplating turning down a central contract but with several team-mates - including Josh Little, Paul Stirling and Harry Tector - playing in leagues, he stresses the need for clear communication.
"I think cricket in general is trying to get to a place where there is more balance, and that people aren't fighting as much for things," Tucker says. "In general, good communication between myself and Cricket Ireland will be the most important thing: when things get lost in the post, that's when people get hurt."
In the short term, Tucker's focus is on a series in England that is bizarrely timed. Ireland hoped these ODIs would have represented a chance to tune up for next month's World Cup, but a disastrous week in Bulawayo saw them miss out on qualification. After this series, they do not play again until December.
"It's a bit odd. It feels like everyone else is gearing up for a party in India next month that we're not invited to. But that's just the way it is: we didn't play well enough in Zimbabwe and now we have to regroup and find our feet again on where we're going to go for this next four-year cycle. It's been a long year, and everyone is looking forward to a bit of headspace."
Most of the fans travelling over for this series have opted for Saturday's second ODI, and there should be a strong Irish contingent both in the stands at Trent Bridge, and in the pubs after: Ireland play South Africa in a crunch Rugby World Cup game in Paris later that evening.
"We've been following them pretty closely so far. There's a strong connection in Ireland in general between rugby and cricket: [Ireland seamer] Barry McCarthy knows quite a few out of the lads playing out there. We'll definitely be supporting and watching closely.
"The plan is to try and win at Trent Bridge, then get the rugby on." For Tucker and Ireland, that would make for a perfect sporting Saturday.