23 July 2009

18 year old Belfast High schoolboy Paul Stirling is no stranger to examinations

However, he may be in line to face his toughest one yet in the picturesque surroundings of Stormont next month when England come to Belfast.

Having just recently completed his ‘A’ levels, he hopes to be involved as England take on Ireland in the RSA Challenge One Day International. Stirling is in line to face the test posed by Andrew Flintoff, James Anderson, Monty Panesar et al, and hopes to pass with flying colours.

“It really would be a dream come true if I get my opportunity to face Andrew Flintoff. He showed in the last test just why he’s one of the best bowlers in the world, and it’ll probably be the last chance any of our guys get to face him. You always want to test yourself against the best, and the only way we’ll continue to improve is by challenging ourselves against countries above us in the rankings.”

“Like everyone else in 2005 I was absolutely captivated by the Ashes battle, and the early signs are that although the same depth of quality may not be on show on all sides, it’s going to be no less enthralling and exciting.”

“We’ve shown in the recent ICC World Twenty20 that we don’t look out of our depth on the world stage, and I know just how motivated everyone is to add another big scalp to our name, and with them so close geographically to us, it would be a major boost to the game here. If they treat us lightly, then they could be in for a big surprise.”

If Stirling is included in the squad, then it would be an early birthday present as he turns 19 one week later on September 3. By that time he should be in Canada with the Ireland Under 19 squad, taking part in the 10 team World Cup Qualifying tournament. Stirling was part of the Ireland side which won the European Championships at the weekend, but by his own admission, he didn’t have the best of tournaments.

“I was a bit under the weather all week, and wasn’t anywhere near my best. I’d gone into the competition in great nick, having followed up my first century for Ireland, with a good 84 in the ODI at Clontarf.”

“I’ve always backed my ability, and it’ll only be a matter of time before the runs start to flow again. It happens to all batsmen during their careers, and I’ll continue to put the effort in and the runs will come.”

Stirling has won 29 caps for Ireland to date, scoring 703 runs at 24.24, hitting a highest score of exactly 100 in the Intercontinental Cup against Kenya earlier this month.

He has played some wonderful innings for Ireland, most notably in the Friends Provident Trophy, where he has half centuries to his name against Leicestershire, Worcestershire and Northants.

“I got 70 against Northants last year, and the highlight for me was hitting Monty Panesar for six during that game.”

What next for the youngster as he awaits his examination results?

“I’m taking a year out, before going to university. I have a summer contract with Middlesex and I’ll be playing for their second XI when Ireland don’t have any fixtures.”

“I’d obviously like to follow in the footsteps of William Porterfield, Ed Joyce, Eoin Morgan, Niall O’Brien, and Boyd Rankin, who all have forged pretty successful careers in county cricket. I’m happy enough playing for Ireland though – I’m sure we’ll have loads of fixtures in the coming years. I think our success story is only just beginning.”

“It should be a wonderful occasion at Stormont on August 27. I was in the crowd the last time and there was a fantastic atmosphere. The Irish fans really create a unique party mood, and with the tickets selling well, it should be another sell-out crowd.”

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