Ireland's Lorcan Tucker to miss Zimbabwe T20Is to play ILT20
Wicketkeeper batter set to be announced as a new signing by MI Emirates
Lorcan Tucker will join Josh Little and Paul Stirling in missing Ireland's T20I series in Zimbabwe to play franchise cricket next month.
Tucker, the wicketkeeper batter, shot to prominence at the T20 World Cup after his 71 not out against Australia and a crucial 45 not out against West Indies.
He will be announced as a new signing by MI Emirates, the Reliance-owned franchise in the inaugural ILT20 in the UAE, in the coming days. Like Little and Stirling, Tucker will miss the T20Is from January 12-15 but will play the ODIs from January 18-23.
Tucker's involvement in the ILT20 is the latest test for Cricket Ireland's selection policy, which has started to incorporate scope for players to skip certain bilateral series in order to make the most of the "development opportunities" offered by franchise leagues.
Historically, Ireland have only tended to grant No-Objection Certificates (NOCs) to centrally-contracted players when leagues do not clash with their international schedule. But the growth of their fixture list, the increasing number of opportunities available in franchise cricket, and the new prominence of their leading players suggests their stance will soften in order to ensure they are not tempted to turn down central contracts and go freelance.
Little, the left-arm seamer who is skipping the Zimbabwe T20Is to play for Pretoria Capitals in the SA20, is the player in the highest demand. Last week, he was signed on a lucrative 'platinum' deal by Multan Sultans at the PSL draft, and he is available at a base price of INR 50 lakh (£50,000 approx.) in Friday's IPL auction.
ESPNcricinfo understands he is likely to be made available for the duration of the IPL if signed - although a decision would depend on Ireland's progress in the ODI Super League. If results elsewhere mean they are still mathematically in contention for automatic qualification to the 2023 World Cup, he would be expected to return home for Ireland's final Super League series against Bangladesh in May.
"Cricket Ireland's view on franchise cricket involvement by our contracted players is that it's Ireland-first by default," Richard Holdsworth, Ireland's long-serving performance director, said. "However, on a case-by-case basis, where an opportunity to leverage a franchise league offer may provide a benefit to the Irish set-up or player development, we will consider flexibility in selection.
"It goes without saying that proximity to major tournaments or where the head coach would prefer to have the players available for international matches, that will be the priority.
"The recent success of our senior squad on the world stage has attracted the attention of a range of franchise tournaments. We take this as both a positive sign of our trajectory as a cricket nation and long overdue recognition for the talent on this island.
"This month alone eight of our senior squad have been involved in franchise leagues, and we expect the demand for Irish talent will only grow over coming years."
Andrew White, Ireland's national selector, added: "The selectors have recognised the development opportunity for Lorcan Tucker in taking up the franchise T20 tournament opportunity next month given the location and quality of players involved.
"While he had previously been named in the Irish squad for the Zimbabwe tour, we considered that the chance opportunity for Lorcan to play in the UAE franchise league would give him an experience that could greatly benefit his game, while allowing us an opportunity to expand our international talent pool."
Tucker has been replaced in the squad by Ross Adair, the spin-bowling allrounder and older brother of Mark Adair. He previously enjoyed a professional rugby union career with Ulster and described his call-up as a "huge honour".
Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98