Ireland's return to training boosts prospects of England ODI series
Talks continuing between Cricket Ireland and ECB to hold three-match series in late July
The prospects of Ireland's ODI series against England going ahead were boosted on Monday, as their centrally-contracted players returned to training under strict health protocols following government approval.
Cricket Ireland has been involved in discussions with the ECB for several weeks about moving the three-match series forward from September to the end of July, and the games look set to go ahead pending approval from the UK government.
Ireland men's and women's squads will resume training this week, with some players starting on Monday, following deep cleans at the Cricket Ireland High Performance Centre in Dublin, the Civil Service ground in Belfast, and at Bready CC, as well as online education sessions for players and coaches over the weekend.
Richard Holdsworth, Cricket Ireland's high performance director, said that the timing of the resumption was necessary to avoid falling behind England's white-ball players, most of whom returned to training last week.
"We are still in discussions with the ECB," Holdsworth said. "In terms of getting ready for those matches should the approval come, with a six-to-eight-week period regarded as essential from the standing start of lockdown to being ready for international cricket - particularly for our bowlers - it was crucial that our players did not lose any more time with the England squad already back to training.
"In addition, there is also still the outside prospect of the men's T20 World Cup in late 2020 - so it may still be a big year for the men's squad. The women's squad are looking at a rescheduled World Cup qualifier tournament which, if it proceeds this year, will require a lead-up programme.
"We have a few players still overseas at the moment, and two who permanently reside in England, but otherwise we expect to have the contracted senior men's squad involved today. The women's senior performance squad and the four emerging contracted players will start training from tomorrow [Tuesday]."
Ireland's centrally-contracted players remained on full pay throughout the lockdown - although the majority of their earnings usually comes from match fees rather than retainers - and have been in regular contact with support staff over the past few months.
Training will start at an individual level under strict guidelines similar to that followed by England, meaning players will turn up in full kit after registering their temperature before leaving home, use all their own equipment, and have no access to changing rooms or storage facilities.
England are likely to be without several important players for the series, with the expectation that they will name completely separate Test and white-ball squads for the series against West Indies and Ireland respectively.
The series is also set to be the first in the qualification process for the 2023 World Cup via the new ODI Super League, and Paul Stirling told ESPNcricinfo last month that "whatever team they [England] put out, we know it'll be a strong one". England have won their last five completed ODIs against Ireland, a run which dates back to their famous defeat in Bengaluru at the 2011 World Cup.
Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets at @mroller98