IRELAND's Kevin O’Brien says that next week's One Day International series against Scotland will offer Ireland's younger players a “great opportunity” to stake their claim for a place in the upcoming World Cup squad.
Captaining the Ireland cricket team in the absence of William Porterfield, O'Brien will lead the team out at the Malahide ground in Dublin when the first of the three ODIs takes place on Monday.
Ireland will be aiming to use the matches as preparation for next year’s World Cup, which takes place across Australia and New Zealand next February and March.
Ahead of that mouth-watering tournament, O’Brien, 30, believes that next week's fixtures against their Pool B competitors will prove beneficial for Ireland’s youth to fight for a place in the travelling squad.
Speaking to The Irish Post, O’Brien said: “It’s a very big game for us in terms of World Cup preparation, it’s a great opportunity for the young guys to put their hand up, play in these games against Scotland and try and force their way into the World Cup squad. It’s the pinnacle of one day cricket.
“There’s a lot of talented players on the team, it’s always a good thing to have competition for places. We’ve probably got 18/19 players going for 15 places in the squad.”
With several young players making an impact within the team, O’Brien – the younger brother of Ireland wicketkeeper Niall – points out that Craig Young and Andrew Balbirnie are two cricketers he expects to shine in the series against Scotland.
“I think Craig has had a great season for North West Warriors and he broke into the Ireland senior squad at the start of this year in the trip to the West Indies, he’s in good form," O'Brien said.
“Andrew has had a very good season for Middlesex and also for Leinster Lightning, he’s got a few good scores. They’re two guys who will be looking to put in strong performances next week and further their case.
“They’ve played for Ireland before a couple of times. The coaches and staff know what they can do, and they know they’re talented players. They just need to score more consistently than they have done in the past.”
Railway Union cricketer, O’Brien, will guide the squad instead of Porterfield, and it’s a role that he relishes with pride.
He adds that to lead Ireland in a World Cup would be an “honour”, but admits that for the benefit of the team he hopes that stalwart Porterfield would resume the captaincy in time for the trip to Australia and New Zealand.
“I’ve played with some very good captains in the past and learned from them but for me I’m just happy to step into the role when William’s not around, he’s obviously the team’s captain and leader,” he said.
“He’s got a fantastic record as Irish captain and hopefully that will continue over the next few months.
“It would be a great honour to captain Ireland at a World Cup, I think it would sit very high on the top of my CV, but hopefully from the team’s point of view that wouldn’t come up, and hopefully William can be available and in form for the tournament.”
The return of John Mooney to international action will be a welcome return, following his departure from Ireland’s tour of the West Indies in February due to a stress-related illness.
In O’Brien’s opinion, the Dubliner – who has been awarded 134 caps for Ireland – will add to the experience in the squad that will stand them in good stead against Scotland.
“I think he’s in a great place at the moment, he’s playing some great cricket with his county club,” he added
“John’s the type of player who once he’s on the pitch he’ll fight 100% for the cause and he’s certainly relishing these games against Scotland.
“I think there’s quite a lot of experience in the side, you’ve got Andrew White back in the team after he’s recently become the most capped player of all time. Andrew Poynter must also have 60/70 caps by now, he’s only mid 20s and has a lot of experience, and also Max Sorensen who’s been leading the attack over the last couple of seasons.
“We have a lot of experienced players, and many who have played Scotland in the past and beaten them on a consistent basis. We will try and give those that don’t have as much experience as we do the benefit that we’ve had and try and get three good victories.”
Victories would not only increase Ireland’s status as a competitive international side, but also gather greater support from home fans; a trend that has been growing in recent years.
O’Brien said: “I think participation levels are up 400 per cent in the last six or seven years. I think since 2007 the sport has been growing quickly; it’s the biggest growing sport in Ireland in recent history.
“Another World Cup in six months will help the game again and I think if we can get the results out there and cause a few more upsets and get into the knock out stages it will grow again.
“I think that having cricket and the Irish team on TV helps massively. The Irish people are great for getting behind whatever team is playing in a World Cup, the general Irish just love seeing the nation play on a world stage. Hopefully, in Feb/March if we can put in several good performances we’ll get the buzz out of cricket again.
“The more positive results we can obtain in Dublin, the greater the support will follow.”
Ireland v Scotland ODI series, Malahide Cricket Club - Monday 8, Wednesday 10 & Friday 12 September