The County Championship season takes a break as the T20 Blast starts for 2023, but we still have some red ball cricket to enjoy as we get a little taste of times gone by as a touring international team takes on a domestic county in a proper first-class fixture. The modern trend for touring teams has been for intra-squad games, and with the modern calendar presenting fewer and fewer opportunities for good honest county pros to test themselves against international teams.
The Irish are in England to prepare for the Lord’s test against England starting on 1st June, and it is good to see them playing more test cricket now after tours of Bangladesh and Sri Lanka during March and April. Although they lost all three tests, they acquitted themselves reasonably well considering their lack of red ball cricket since 2019. The lesser-known players such as Harry Tector, and Lorcan Tucker showed hints of their talent with maiden test centuries, alongside more established names like captain Andy Balbirnie, Andy McBrine, and Paul Stirling performing creditably.
It is a scandal that since joining the test playing ranks in 2018 that they have only played six test matches in that time, and the ICC should do more to encourage the smaller test playing nations like Ireland to play more test cricket to help preserve the great game of test cricket, as the financial burden of hosting tests discourages these nations from hosting tours, and the bigger nations seem to be doing little to help grow this form of the game by touring such nations.
The ECB should surely be accommodating an annual test match against Ireland on a home and away basis, plus an annual ODI versus Scotland to help grow the game in the British Isles, and similar programmes could be put in place around the world to help the smaller nations. If the ICC does not step up, we will slowly be creeping towards a European Super League style format of test cricket where the big nations only ever play each other as they look to their own selfish financial self-interest. The most annual report published by the ICC shows reserves of nearly US $1 billion, the money is there but the will to use to support test cricket appears to be lacking.
Anyway, back to the game ahead. Essex is also preparing for the T20 Blast, so are likely to rest many of their multi-format players like Dan Lawrence, Matt Critchley, Adam Rossington, and Simon Harmer. This should present chances for youngsters such as batters Robin Das and Feroze Khushi, all-rounder Luc Benkenstein, and young seamer Jamal Richards, all of whom have been showing significant potential in the white ball formats and the second XI. This will be a valuable opportunity to see the next generation of Essex cricketers, alongside the red ball specialists like Nick Browne, and Sir Alistair Cook who are unlikely to see much cricket over the next several weeks.
The visitors have picked a talented squad but is missing left arm seamer Josh Little who is being rested from the England tour after his international and IPL exertions. The bowlers struggled for wickets in sub-continent but may be more penetrative in more familiar conditions, and the likes of Mark Adair, Curtis Campher, and Craig Young could be a handful. All-rounder Curtis Campher in particular looks a real talent and has become a fulcrum of the side in all formats. The batting unit has significant potential in the middle order, but the top order struggled against Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, so the like of James McCollum will have a point to prove.
This should be a fascinating contest in what is a rare chance to see an international team facing up to a domestic team in a proper first-class fixture, often warm up games have been used as an opportunity to give the whole squad game time and become almost farcical as games between 15-a-side with players batting multiple times in the same innings. The Irish squad should be familiar with conditions at Chelmsford as well having recently concluded a three game ODI series against Bangladesh in which all three games were played at the County Ground.
Essex squad: tbc
Ireland squad: Andrew Balbirnie (capt), Mark Adair, Curtis Campher, George Dockrell, Fionn Hand, Graham Hume, Tom Mayes, Andrew McBrine, James McCollum, PJ Moor, Conor Olphert, Paul Stirling, Harry Tector, Lorcan Tucker, Craig Young.
Weather and conditions:
The weather looks good for all three days so we should see an uninterrupted contest, although temperatures will not just yet summer levels, with a top temperature of 20c on Saturday. The pitch should offer a bit of assistance for the bowlers, but the drier conditions may move things back in the batters favour slightly.
Date: Friday 26th – Sunday 28th May 2023
Ground: County Ground, Chelmsford