Little, Ireland’s outstanding left-arm seamer, has been a mainstay of Gujarat Titans’ table-topping outfit in the ongoing IPL, claiming six wickets in the tournament to date including a Player-of-the-Match-winning haul of 2 for 25 against Kolkata Knight Riders at Eden Gardens last week.

But, with Ireland needing a clean-sweep of their three-match series to have any chance of displacing South Africa in eighth place in the World Cup Super League standings, and thereby secure automatic qualification for the main event in India this year, Little has linked back up with his Ireland team-mates for the first time since the tour of Zimbabwe in January.

“It’s a huge boost,” Balbirnie said on the eve of the first ODI. “He has become a world-class operator, and we’re very grateful to have him back into the squad for these games. He’s obviously had a really good time of it at the IPL, so to have him throughout this week for these games is a great boost for us as a group, and obviously for the bowlers as well, and the learnings that they take from him. Hopefully, from our point of view, he can have a good week performance-wise and have an impact for us.

“There’s a lot of talk, and plenty being written and said about it,” Balbirnie added, referencing the ongoing debate about the future of international cricket amid the proliferation of T20 leagues. “But we’re just happy that [Josh] is playing for us. He’s very close with the group, and grew up with a lot of us, and there’s no angst about him not playing for us in certain games. We’re just delighted with the progress he’s made.

“He’s on the world stage and performing, and that’s something that has proven to a lot of the group that it can be done, with hard work and discipline. Having only bowled four-over spells over a period of time, to come in and bowl ten overs will maybe be a bit taxing on him. But he’s a pretty fit guy and he’s just a really good player for us now. We’re just very lucky to have him for the week.”

The challenge of the making the switch from a spin-friendly surface in Jaipur, the scene of his most recent IPL outing on Friday, to an overcast Chelmsford will be a tough one for Little. However, several of his team-mates – Balbirnie included – are faced with a similar adjustment, following their most recent Test against Sri Lanka in Galle, in which they lost by an innings despite posting an impressive 492 in their first innings.

Balbirnie himself made scores of 95 and 46 in the Test, with Paul Stirling and Curtis Campher both posting centuries, and despite the disappointment in the final result, Ireland’s captain was happy to take the positives from the performance.

“Going from Galle to Chelmsford, it’s certainly two different ends of the spectrum, but when you’re just looking at it as a bat-versus-ball contest, it is nice to know that you’ve got a bit of form in the bank over the last couple of weeks. So hopefully, us as batters can take that forward into this week

“I can only speak for myself, but batting is batting, no matter what the format is. You’re going to be confident because you’ve got runs, albeit on a very, very good wicket, it gives confidence that you can do it for a long period of time against good bowling.”

Given the importance of the series, and the potential reward if Ireland can achieve their aim of a 3-0 clean-sweep, Balbirnie admitted it was a disappointment not to be playing their home series on home soil. However, he added that he accepted the logistical constraints – a combination of poor weather prospects and Cricket Ireland’s costly overheads for setting up temporary facilities – and backed his players to put their best foot forward regardless.

“I’m not going to sit here and say that we want to be here necessarily,” he said. “Essex have been really good at facilitating us, they’ve made us feel as home as possible, but certainly as an Irish cricketer, you want to play your home games in Ireland and you want to play in front of your crowd that are really passionate about the game, and friends and family and stuff.

“So it’s slightly disappointing but, at the same time, we’ve got to just get on with it. We don’t make those decisions, and I don’t want to dwell too much on it, because we are here and it’s not going to change. We try to win games of cricket for Ireland and hopefully some people make the trip over this week.”

The likelihood, however, is that Bangladesh’s wealth of UK-based support – not least the communities in East London for whom Chelmsford is a half-hour commute – will flock to the three games to create an atmosphere that rather favours the visitors.

“To be honest, I think no matter where we play in the world, there’ll probably be more Bangladeshi people there than Irish. Even if we’re playing in Dublin, there’d be a big Bangladeshi crowd here. We want to play in front of a lot of people, we want to showcase our skills and make our game bigger. So if we can put in performances against a hostile Bangladesh crowd, then great. But I do hope to see a bit of Irish colour in the crowd as well. Naturally, we want to play in front of our people and hopefully put on a good show.”

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket


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