Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Cricket Ireland’s James McCollum upbeat about next week’s Test match; discusses career to date

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Photo Credit: Barny Read/Cricket Ireland

Ireland Men’s James McCollum admits it has taken a while, but he now feels comfortable about his role in international cricket – and patience is the key.

Belfast-born McCollum, 28, has 16 international caps for Ireland, including having played in six of Ireland Men’s seven Test matches. The Northern Knights and Waringstown opener made his international debut exactly five years to the day should he walk out for next week’s Test match in Abu Dhabi – and will face the same opponents as he did in 2019.

Speaking after today’s training session at the Sevens Cricket Ground, he said:

“Yeah, that first Test match against the Afghans – seems a while ago now. I had actually made my international debut in an ODI a few weeks before the Test and I got a first baller, trapped in front by Mujeeb – which was obviously a pretty horrendous feeling. So, I remember walking in the Test a little later feeling a lot more comfortable, to be honest. Red-ball was a format that I had done pretty well in, and I had quite a lot of confidence in my game in the format.

“That Aghan attack had Rashid Khan in it who I had never faced before, so I was still pretty nervous about that. But the good thing about red ball cricket is you’ve got time to build an innings, time to work your way into a game. Rashid got me twice, but the second innings I got some time at the crease to battle through to 39. Sometimes it only takes one or two shots and then all of a sudden you find your flow. That was my memory of that Test debut.”

So, if James compared himself today to the James of 2019, what has changed?

“Good question. Probably more along the mental side of the game. You pick a lot of things up just being around, or being in, the game at a high level for so long. I’ve been around guys who are playing in competitions all over the world, and playing with some of the best players in the world, and you are learning constantly. We have a pretty strong core batting group within the Ireland set-up and guys you can see a growing confidence in the way we play.

“I suppose I’m also more tactically aware too – in the way I train, prepare and think about the game. Test cricket is a lot more mentally taxing than any other format of the game. From a batting perspective, you need to develop tactical awareness around figuring out how bowlers are trying to set you up, you have to read the fields, you have to be aware of your most likely mode of dismissal and try to negate that, and you’re trying to constantly stay one step ahead of the opposition captain’s tactics. So, there’s a lot that goes into a game. That’s come with time and experience.

“Finally, I’ve put a lot more emphasis on trying to enjoy the game a lot more. I think when you first came into the team and you’re on an experienced squad, you’re just so overly eager to do well, and you put a lot of pressure on yourself. But over time you realise that that’s not going to help you perform well. I’m very lucky to do what I do. You know, everyone’s really good friends with each other in the squad – we get to travel the world. You know, it’s a pretty incredible thing to do and I used to take that for granted, but I just try to enjoy every moment of it now.”

What does James consider his best moment in an Irish shirt so far?

“That’s an easy one – 2019, Lord’s Test, day one. It was just incredible, and no one expected it. They won the toss and a green top and batted first, which helped us a lot. To have England out for 85 by lunch – I mean you’re in dreamland. I remember getting home that night after we put 220 or so on the board, thinking that it was an incredible day of cricket and wondering if it always going to be like that!

“I kind of took it for granted a little bit, because it was only my second Test and my first year playing for Ireland. I was probably a little naïve about the learning curve of Test cricket, but that day is definitely my favourite moment – and it’ll be hard to beat, I think.”

Your Lord’s return last year was probably a very different feeling?

“Yeah, the last Test match was obviously a bit of a strange one. I’d batted OK for 36 in the first innings – but then the second, well, that ended very differently.

“I’ve gone back to play a pull shot and my back foot slipped and came off the ground. Effectively, both feet were in the air. My front leg was raised as well, because I was trying to like ride the bounce, but when my right foot came down on its side, I completely dislocated my ankle, and ended up tearing two ligaments.

“It was frustrating, given where we were in the game – we were working hard to get back into the game. We may have been two down at the time, but the wicket was like just starting to get really flat.”

That may not have been the last we saw of you, though?

“Yeah, Scra [Andy McBrine] was batting well towards the back end and in the 80s. There was a massive opportunity to have one of our boys up on the Honour’s Board alongside Murts [Tim Murtagh] if he could get to a hundred, so I strapped on a moon boot and put on the pads – and to be honest, I didn’t feel that bad like I felt like I might be able to hold up an end for a while. The plan was I was going to go out if he was within one hit. But, unfortunately, it didn’t quite work out.

“But to be honest, while I read a bit of commentary about it, it’s nothing the Scra wouldn’t have done for me, you know or any other player in the team wouldn’t have done for each other. That’s the kind of culture that we have in the team.”

Finally, how have preparations been going this week?

“Preparation has been really good so far. We’ve had a weekend to train in first class facilities – 10 grass nets, middle practices, three different pitches. It’s not something we get very often back home, so we’re all mucking in to take full advantage of the opportunity.”

THE SERIES

  • 28 February – 3 March: Afghanistan Men v Ireland Men (Test Match; Abu Dhabi; 10am start time)
  • 7 March: Afghanistan Men v Ireland Men (ODI; Sharjah; 3.30pm start time)
  • 9 March: Afghanistan Men v Ireland Men (ODI; Sharjah; 3.30pm start time)
  • 12 March: Afghanistan Men v Ireland Men (ODI; Sharjah; 3.30pm start time)
  • 15 March: Afghanistan Men v Ireland Men (T20I; Sharjah; 8pm start time)
  • 17 March: Afghanistan Men v Ireland Men (T20I; Sharjah; 8pm start time)
  • 18 March: Afghanistan Men v Ireland Men (T20I; Sharjah; 8pm start time)

* All times quotes are local to the venue (+4 hours ahead of Ireland) 

THE SQUADS

Test squad

Mark Adair, Andrew Balbirnie (capt), Curtis Campher, George Dockrell, Matthew Foster, Graham Hume, Andy McBrine, Barry McCarthy, James McCollum, PJ Moor, Paul Stirling, Harry Tector, Lorcan Tucker, Theo van Woerkom, Craig Young

ODI squad

Mark Adair, Andrew Balbirnie, Curtis Campher, Gareth Delany, George Dockrell, Matthew Foster, Graham Hume, Andy McBrine, Barry McCarthy, Neil Rock, Paul Stirling (capt), Harry Tector, Lorcan Tucker, Theo van Woerkom, Craig Young 

T20I squad

Mark Adair, Ross Adair, Andrew Balbirnie, Curtis Campher, Gareth Delany, George Dockrell, Graham Hume, Josh Little, Barry McCarthy, Neil Rock, Paul Stirling (capt), Harry Tector, Lorcan Tucker, Ben White, Craig Young

The coaching and support staff are:

  • Head Coach: Heinrich Malan
  • Batting/Wicketkeeping Coach: Gary Wilson
  • Pace Bowling Coach: Ryan Eagleson
  • Spin Bowling Coach: Chris Brown
  • Physiotherapist: Mark Rausa
  • Strength & Conditioning Coach: Brendan Connor
  • Performance Analyst: Scott Irvine
  • Team Operations Manager: Chris Siddell

BROADCAST

We are awaiting advice from the Afghanistan Cricket Board about how fans can watch the series.

LIVESCORING AND UPDATES

As always, livescoring is available on www.cricketireland.ie and regular updates via Cricket Ireland social media channels.

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