Paul Stirling will make his North Down debut on Sunday when they travel to The Lawn for their LVS Twenty20 Cup semi-final against Waringstown.
Fresh off scoring 142 from 128 balls in Ireland’s seven-wicket victory over England on Tuesday, Stirling is one of the best Twenty20 batsmen in the world and signed for North Down in June but hasn’t been able to play yet due to international commitments.
He won’t be at Ballygomartin Road for a Robinson Services Cup clash with Woodvale on Saturday but his Ireland team-mate Craig Young will be with the fast bowler available for both games this weekend.
Young was the standout performer with the ball for Ireland across the three-game series, picking up six wickets, including the scalp of opener Jason Roy in every game.
It is a massive boost to North Down who have kicked off their season with three wins from four matches and captain Alistair Shields is delighted to have both on board for the weekend.
“If you’d have given me a choice to have him for one game this weekend then it would have been Sunday given that it’s a cup semi-final and that’s the only place we have lost so far,” he said of Stirling.
“It’s a big boost for us. We have Youngy available both days. We are looking forward to having a bit of extra pace in the attack.
“He’s a step up from what club cricketers are used to and I know in a couple of games he bowled last year that you could see the pace does funny things to a batter’s head.
“It makes you make different decisions than you normally would so it’s great to have him.
“He’s mad keen to get going and was straight away keen to know when our fixtures were and when he could play. We are looking forward to having them both back this weekend.”
The acquisition of Stirling is one of the biggest and most high-profile in the NCU in recent times and although he may not be available for long with a potential T20 Blast campaign in England coming up, Shields says the whole club are excited about his arrival.
“It’ll be great if we can get a couple of home games for the guys to perform in,” he added.
“I think we have a run of away games now. We are absolutely looking forward to having someone of his calibre and Youngy too pulling on the North Down shirt.
“For our lads to learn from them is great and we will be looking to take their knowledge as well as their ability on the pitch.
“It’s something for the team to look forward to but also the whole club and I’m sure we will get a couple of good crowds when the guys are involved.”
Stirling will strengthen a top-order that already contains the likes of Ruhan Pretorius and Shields himself, who has got his season off to a good start by scoring 122 runs across three Robinson Services Cup games.
With a bit of a different role this season, Shields has been putting more importance on his wicket and that mindset has helped get the best out of his game.
“It’s a bit of a different role for me,” he said.
“I’ve been used to opening the batting for the past few years and going in with a bit of a licence in the powerplay and it has come off a few times getting the odd 70 or 80 which is great, but the consistency wasn’t really there.
“With Ruhan and Aditya coming in and both keen to open the batting plus Stirlo when he’s available, it made sense for me to slide down the order and maybe play that anchor role and bat time more.
“We brought in Gavin Rogers again to act as a bit of support around the wider team and that’s one thing he has helped me with and putting more value on my wicket.
“It seems to be working well and we’ve had some good results.”
The one loss that North Down have been handed this season was against Waringstown at the same venue they’ll be playing at on Sunday.
Although not needing any more motivation to perform, Shields and his men will have revenge on their mind.
“North Down vs Waringstown is always a big game,” he added.
“I think if we are honest with ourselves we threw the game away against them a couple of weeks ago.
“It’s a cup semi-final and it’s against Waringstown so we don’t need any extra motivation, but if you did then you don’t need to look much further than the revenge of that defeat.
“We will be looking to look after Saturday first and put in a good performance at Woodvale and then look forward to Sunday.”