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'People have been trying to say it will make me a better player, but it's hard to look past that'

The omission of Barry McCarthy for Friday’s first Test against Pakistan raised questions over Ireland’s selection policy.

IN A WEEK which has already witnessed a succession of epochal moments — from the convening of the first Test squad, to that commemorative team photo — there are 14 players and their families who are in the privileged position to live the dream of a cricketing nation.

Barry McCarthy makes his debut Barry McCarthy has been an ever-present in Ireland squads since his debut in 2016. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

William Porterfield, the Ireland captain, has spoken at length in the build-up to Friday’s historic Test against Pakistan, highlighting and paying tribute to all of the previous generations — 699 internationals, to be exact — who played their part and paved the way.

The sense of pride which has been building all week, and will reach an emotionally-charged crescendo at 11am tomorrow morning, has been tangible in the way the players have spoken passionately — and emotively — about what it will mean to be handed their Test cap, and then step out onto the field in the shamrock-emblazoned jumper.

For their families, too, it will be a remarkably rewarding day as cricket, perhaps like no other sport on this island, is a game of generations, the obsession passed down like a heirloom. There are the O’Briens, the Mooneys, the Joyces, all Irish cricketing royalty, all of whom ensured the flame never flickered.

Cricket Ireland have always shown their competence off the field and, in fitting fashion, will recognise all of its past players as guests of honour on Sunday, so those who have gone before can savour the occasion as much as the current squad, who have been awarded that distinction and honour.

For the most part, the selection committee recognised the immense contributions of this golden generation and rightly, the likes of Porterfield, Ed Joyce, Gary Wilson and the O’Briens, will all earn the ultimate reward in Malahide, etching their name into the history books irrespective of form. One last hurrah.

Many of the senior players are still worthy of their place in the side, but Graham Ford’s first Test squad announcement was also met with widespread incredulity as several others who have been equally as instrumental over the last number of years were overlooked on the basis of form — or experience.

See the incredibly harsh omission of George Dockrell, who has 182 caps and should have been involved in some capacity, or Barry McCarthy, who can consider himself most unlucky considering his emergence as Ireland’s most potent bowler since his senior debut in 2016 and his experience of red ball cricket in England with Durham.

Selection is, of course, a subjective business and there will always be tough calls to make in a game where form can fluctuate so drastically, but the decision of Andrew White — the chairman of selectors — to leave Dockrell and McCarthy out of the 14-man panel left many bewildered, and indeed angered.

Instead, uncapped fast-bowler Nathan Smith and Leinster’s Tyrone Kane, who wasn’t awarded a Cricket Ireland contract at the start of the year, were included, while all-rounder Stuart Thompson came back into favour after a couple of strong performances in trial games.

Barry McCarthy McCarthy has taken 47 wickets in 23 ODIs. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

Smith has since pulled out of the squad through injury and his place has gone to Craig Young, with Kane now likely to fill the third and final spot in Ireland’s bowling unit for their maiden Test match.

When asked why McCarthy — who last week took his 51st first-class wicket for Durham in the County Championship — had been left out altogether, Ford said he didn’t have the control the selectors were looking for and pointed to his expensive economy rate during the three-day game against Somerset last month as a primary reason.

Many aren’t buying that argument, and the statistics don’t back it up either.

Granted McCarthy has leaked nearly six runs an over in his first 23 ODIs for Ireland, but when you consider he has taken 47 wickets at a strike rate of 25, Ford’s reasoning doesn’t stand up.

At a time when Ireland’s attack is as toothless as ever before, it seems bizarre they see fit to omit one of their strike bowlers, who not only has raw pace but an impressive, and ever improving, skillset.

For the player himself, who has been an ever-present in squads since his debut against Sri Lanka in June 2016, it is a bitter pill to swallow.

“I’m obviously bitterly disappointed,” McCarthy tells The42.
“A little bit surprised as well, to be honest. I thought I was in with a very good chance.”Having played a fair bit of county cricket in England and with a bit of red ball experience, I thought that would have given me a decent chance of getting picked but unfortunately it wasn’t to be.”

McCarthy received a call from White last Thursday evening informing him he wasn’t in Ford’s squad which was being officially announced the following morning.

“The occasion makes it very difficult to take,” he continues. “I don’t want to go on and say I should be there and deserve to be there and all that, but I’ve been over in Durham for four years now playing county cricket, 15 first-class games under my belt.

“It has been disappointing from a selection point of view that nobody has ever over the last four years has seen me play a game over here.

“Even still, I would have thought I was in with a decent chance and played the warm up game against Somerset and thought I was okay at times. Obviously it was a first bowl with a red ball for the guts of six or seven months, which was difficult. Unfortunately that went against me in the selection.

“After that I was out of sight, out of mind, in the sense I was over in England preparing for the start of the County Championship season with Durham. That cost me, it seems.”

Yorkshire v Durham - Specsavers County Championship - Division One The 25-year-old has been playing England with Durham for the last four years. Source: Daniel Smith

The next day, McCarthy was in action for Durham against Leicestershire and, inconceivably disappointment and downbeat by the news which had yet to break, went out with a point to prove.

In doing so, he took three first innings wickets and, more significantly, showed good control with the ball, going at under three runs an over to further dispel Ford’s belief that he is too expensive.

The Ireland head coach rang him after play that evening to explain why he would not be linking up with the squad in Dublin this week.

“The decision has been made and it’s basically telling you that you haven’t been picked for what is one of the most historic games in Irish cricket and it’s a massive, massive disappointment,” McCarthy explains.

“And a surprise. Not something I expected at the end of that phone call.

“I’ve got on very well with Graham since he’s taken over and I’ve got a lot of time for him, he’s an exceptional coach. I haven’t got a bad word to say about him but to be honest, looking at that Somerset game, every bowler struggled with the red ball, and it wasn’t just me.

“It was evident last week for Durham that I bowled with control but it’s too late then, too late to contest it — but I didn’t do myself any harm this week and I think I showed I do have that element of control.”

McCarthy, it seems, has always had to work harder to impress Cricket Ireland and convince them of his potential and worth, with Durham showing more faith in him four years ago when they awarded him a senior contract without having played international cricket.

Recognition did eventually come for the 25-year-old but not before time and after having to be patient for his chance, seized it with both hands, as he made an instant impression in a side blitzed in ODI series against Sri Lanka, Pakistan, New Zealand and Bangladesh.

“People have been trying to tell me it will make me a better player but at the time it’s hard to look into the future and past this game. All I can do is show people, whether it was the right decision or not, that I’m capable of playing Test match cricket for Ireland.

“Unfortunately there’s obviously something in my game that isn’t quite good enough at the moment and I didn’t get selected for it. I can be bitter or get better and that’s what I’m going to do, I’m going to get better. That’s the way I’m going to take it.

Barry McCarthy celebrates bowling a wicket with his teammates McCarthy will find it tough to watch his team-mates make history. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“It won’t deter me or won’t put me in a bad place because Durham have a lot of faith in me and as long as I’m striving to do well over here, that’s all I can focus on at the moment.”

Cricket Ireland said on Wednesday that Young was called up to replace the injured Smith as McCarthy himself was carrying a knock, but it was unlikely, for whatever reason, he would have received the call.

Instead, McCarthy has remained in England with Durham and while not fit to take part in their County Championship game this weekend, will watch on as Ireland make history from afar. It will be difficult to watch.

“You’re scrolling through Twitter, you see the team photo, you stop and have a little look. Those lads are 14 very, very lucky lads. They’ve been given an amazing opportunity.

“Seeing all the coverage and all the build up does disappoint me again, it sort of reminds you that you’re not there. I don’t know how it’s going to feel on Friday but at the same time there’s 11 Test caps going out because Ireland has achieved such great success and I’m delighted for those lads.

“It’s a massive moment for Irish cricket and I will be watching it. While it’s hard and disappointing to take, I do wish everyone the best and I’ll be rooting for them hoping I get to experience that at some stage too.

“I certainly feel like I’ve got the ability to play Test cricket for Ireland, so I’ll just have to wait and see if I get the chance in the future or not.”

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‘Something that has been a dream for a long time is finally going to happen’

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Ryan Bailey

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