Ireland raise white-ball visibility issues against empty stands

Players found picking up ball against white seats "tricky" in warm-up game

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
A general view of the ground during England's warm-up match, Ageas Bowl, Team Morgan v Team Moeen, July 22, 2020

Empty white and cream seats could cause visibility issues at the Ageas Bowl  •  Getty Images

Ireland have flagged an unusual problem with playing behind closed doors ahead of their three-match ODI series against England next week, after their fielders struggled to pick up the white ball against the backdrop of empty cream-coloured seats in an intra-squad practice match.
All three games in the series will be played at the Ageas Bowl, where Ireland and England have been staying since last week. While empty stands did not cause major issues for fielders in England's Test against West Indies at the ground last month, Ireland's players found it difficult to see the white ball against the light seats.
"The thing that's a little bit of a concern is the background," Graham Ford, Ireland's head coach, said in a virtual press conference on Friday. "The seating is either cream or white, and you've got a white ball and an empty stadium, so that background for fielders might be a challenge."
Andy Balbirnie, Ireland's captain, said that he hoped extra sessions will prepare his fielders for the challenge. "It does take a bit of getting used to, but we've got a week of prep and we can make sure that we hone that, and make sure that guys are comfortable and almost getting their eyes in while fielding," he said. "It can be tricky: a white ball on cream and white seats will be tricky, but we've got enough time to make sure we can't use that as an excuse."
All three games are day-night matches, meaning it will likely only be a problem in the first innings. ESPNcricinfo understands that the ECB has no plans to add dark covers to the seats, and will instead rely on fielders being able to adapt. Hampshire have played a number of one-day games at the ground with only a limited number of fans present.
Meanwhile, Ford has laid down a marker for Ireland in saying that it is not enough for them to simply give England a scare. "We've certainly shown in the previous ODI at Malahide and in the Test match [last year] that we can give them a fright," he said. "But that's not what we want to do: we want to be winners.
"There are a few little elements we may have to work on - a few things we might to able to see in terms of the psychological side of it and the pressure they've got. It's a potential banana-skin game for them: they can't afford to lose to us, and they'll take a lot of flak if they do.
"There's a few little issues of, perhaps, egos, and things that we can work on, but I wouldn't want to talk about the things we want to exploit in the media. The most important thing is that we put good basics in place."
Balbirnie admitted that there was "no doubt" that Ireland were "going in as underdogs", but said that with key players like Jos Buttler and Ben Stokes absent on Test duty, England could be vulnerable if they lost early wickets.
"Those two in the middle order have been standout players for England over a number of years," he said. "They've got a really strong top order, and against these big teams early wickets are vital, no matter who you're playing.
"In the first game of the series, it's a statement if we can take early wickets and really set the ball rolling, but they've got a really strong squad here. They've played as many games as we have this summer, so we're going in with a clean slate, and hopefully we're building momentum nicely towards that first game."
Balbirnie said that he was confident Ireland would be able to cope with the challenge posed by England's two main spinners, Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid, on a relatively slow wicket with big square boundaries. Balbirnie said he had been doing his homework, checking the type of player who has been successful in Hampshire's one-day games at the ground, and thought that taking pace off the ball would be crucial.
"One of the benefits of playing Afghanistan so often [is] you get the opportunity to play against world-class spinners on a regular basis. You learn different things, and learn how to play them in different scenarios. As a squad, we tend to play spin pretty well."
One bowler who may prove crucial to Ireland's hopes in the series is Josh Little, the 20-year-old left-arm seamer who took 4 for 45 on ODI debut against England last year. England's batsmen have generally struggled against left-arm seamers in recent years, and Ford said that Little would "certainly be very close" to inclusion for the first ODI.
"It's no good just picking somebody because the opposition have a perceived weakness against that type of bowling," Ford said, "[but] he's gone quite nicely. I'd like to see him just step it up a little bit, but it's nice to know we've got that sort of variation to our attack. He's a really exciting prospect."
Ireland have one more warm-up game to prepare ahead of the first ODI on July 30, against an England Lions XI that will include Eoin Morgan, who was rested for England's intra-squad warm-up on Friday. They are set to be without Mark Adair for the series, who is yet to bowl at full intensity in training, but Ford is hopeful that Paul Stirling will be fit after missing the intra-squad game with a calf niggle.

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets at @mroller98