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When Ireland play the first of three ODIs against Netherlands on Wednesday, their line-up is likely to include a familiar name in an unfamiliar role. George Dockrell is their second-highest wicket-taker in all international cricket, but his left-arm spin is set to become his second string now, in his second coming as a batting allrounder.
Dockrell's ODI numbers with the bat aren't flash - 579 runs in 87 matches at an average of 16.54 - but having slipped behind Andy McBrine and Simi Singh in Ireland's spin hierarchy, he's reinvented himself in remarkable fashion, forcing his way back into the ODI side for the first time since May 2019 with the weight of his run-scoring. He topped the charts in this year's Inter-Provincial Limited-Over Cup, scoring 364 runs at an average of 121.33 and a strike rate of 87.92.
"Yeah, I think George is probably going to slot in at five," Balbirnie said in a media interaction on Monday. "He's been really good in the Inter-Pro games he's played so far, and he's played like a batter, he's not looked out of place whatsoever; in fact he's been the best batter in the competition, so unless something drastic happens he'll probably play at five.
"He obviously gives us a bit with the ball as well, but what's been really impressive is, having had the setback at the start of the year, not being given a contract, what he was told to do was go away, work on his batting, and he's done exactly that, and we're just hoping that he could bring that forward into the one-dayers come Wednesday."
As Dockrell's team-mate at Leinster Lightning, Balbirnie has kept a close eye on the work he's put in behind the scenes to lift his batting to its current level. He pointed to two ODI half-centuries against Afghanistan as proof of the potential that Dockrell has always had, and suggested the expansion of the Inter-Provincial tournament from three teams to four also helped him get in more games to hone his skill.
"He's obviously played a lot of international cricket, he's played quite a lot of county cricket, so he's been exposed to pretty good bowling, albeit batting down the order, but I vaguely remember him doing a bit of nightwatchman for Somerset and Ireland, so he's technically always been quite good," Balbirnie said.
Gareth Delany has been ruled out of the Netherlands tour with a knee injury•Getty Images
"We've always felt that he was good enough, and if we look back over the last couple of years, I can remember a game in Dehradun where he came in and batted maybe at six, and he got a fifty (54 in a successful chase of 257); he got a fifty batting at about eight or nine in Sharjah in 2017, I think it was (an unbeaten 62 off 48 balls), so we've always known he's got the ability and the talent.
"I suppose what's helped is the restructure of the Inter-Pros. So having four teams with the best players playing, so George now not batting at eight for Leinster but batting five and getting more chance to spend time in the middle, and his statistics in the competition are ridiculous. He's gone away and he's been told that he needs to work on his batting, and that's an area that he could potentially get in the team as, and he's done exactly that, so a lot boils down to his work ethic and his frame of mind, and getting his head down and working as hard as he can on his batting. I think we're going to see the rewards over the next six to 12 months."
With Delany ruled out just before the squad departed for the Netherlands, Ireland have included the uncapped legspinner Ben White as a replacement. While White is unlikely to get his chance immediately, Balbirnie is impressed with what he's seen of the 22-year-old so far.
"He's someone that's been on the radar for a year or two now that we've kept an eye on," Balbirnie said. "He's really impressive. He bowled really well this morning. I got a good 20 minutes at him. He's a bit different to what we have, he's not your kind of classical legspinner. He's tall, he kind of fires it into the pads, but he can get a bit of spin if it's there, so he's someone that I think will be in and around the squad for the next period of time if he keeps up his performances.
"It's obviously an area that's so crucial to white-ball cricket around the world, the legspinner. We probably haven't had the legspinner that we've wanted over the last couple of years, Gareth has done a pretty good job whenever required but he's been more of a batter who bowls, so Ben White is someone that can give us that complete legspinner, and he's just come into the squad for the first time and hopefully he can take strides forward and potentially be that legspinner that we've been looking for."