From the delirium of a first victory away to England, most of Ireland’s cricketers now face the tedium of two weeks in self-isolation. All of Ireland’s players based in the Republic of Ireland had to begin a mandatory two-week quarantine period when they returned on Wednesday, even though the players from Northern Ireland do not need to quarantine.
So while one of Ireland’s centurions in the third one-day international, Paul Stirling, is free to resume seeing friends and family, the other, Andy Balbirnie, faces two weeks by himself in his Dublin flat.
“It is bizarre,” said Balbirnie, Ireland’s captain, who hit 113 at the Ageas Bowl in the chase of 329 on Tuesday.
“The guys from Northern Ireland can go straight up from Dublin and there's no quarantine there. We've been in the safest environment I could imagine - there was hand sanitiser in every corner, we didn't leave the hotel and we were tested four times and all came back negative.”
Of the 22-man extended squad that Ireland brought to England, 13 are based in the Republic of Ireland, two now live in England, and seven live in Northern Ireland. Cricket Ireland had lobbied for players to be exempt from self-isolation rules when they returned from England on charter flight, but unsuccessfully.
“Obviously we have to respect the rules and regulations,” Balbirnie said. “Cricket Ireland went to the government and said what we'd been up to for the past two or three weeks but for whatever reason I don't think anything's come of that.”
Unless government rules in the Republic of Ireland are relaxed, players are due to be in quarantine until August 19, a day before the Irish interprovincial competition - the top level of domestic cricket in the country - begins. “It’s not ideal - we’ll have bowlers who have been sitting on the coach for two weeks,” Balbirnie said.
After his 214-run stand with his close friend Stirling, Balbirnie could not bring himself to watch the final stages of the game, with Ireland needing 50 from 33 balls after he was dismissed.
“Those final 30 or 40 runs I actually just wasn't able to watch, I was in the toilet just not able to watch,” he said. “I can't stand that when it's in control, and I'm in control of it and then I lose that and I have to rely on someone else. I really struggle to deal with it. So the lads had to drag me out and make sure that I was involved.”
Soon after, Balbirnie called his father, who had been celebrating his birthday by watching the game from Dublin with other members of his family. “He sat in his house in Dublin in my full Ireland one-day kit from a few years ago. I rang him after the game and we all facetimed him and the lads sang happy birthday to him.”
With the fillip of a first ever ODI win away to a top-eight side, and 10 precious ODI Super League points on the long road to qualification for the 2023 World Cup, Balbirnie’s endorsement of youth was vindicated. Young players were brought in for veterans William Porterfield, Boyd Rankin and Gary Wilson, with Curtis Campher, Josh Little, Lorcan Tucker and Harry Tector - who scored 29 not out in the chase - all impressing at points.
“There's no hiding away from the fact that a golden generation of Irish cricketers have gotten us to the stage,” Balbirnie said. “We needed to get guys exposed to this level - and we've done that.
“We believe that these guys are going to be the future of Irish cricket. We've just got to make sure that we nurture them well, and expose them to this level as often as possible.
“It's a huge moment for me as captain but it's a huge moment for this team. It's a team that haven't experienced these sort of wins much so to be able to experience that with the young guys who have just come into the squad, it's a great thrill.
“We had a beer in the changing room and sang the team song. It was great."
Stirling, who hit 142, was named man of the match, a performance that took his ODI average to 49 since the start of 2019. "He’s just so destructive and he can single-handedly win a game," said Balbirnie. "It’s still a mystery to me why he hasn’t played IPL."
Ireland were notably aggressive in the field throughout the series, with Balbirnie deploying attacking fields. “We're not as talented as the teams we usually play like England. So we're going to have to be aggressive playing against these teams - we're going to need to take wickets."
Balbirnie hopes that this win, which follows a Twenty20 victory away to the West Indies in January, gives new impetus to the game in Ireland. “We put in a performance yesterday that hopefully inspires a generation, and that's what we're trying to do in a country where cricket is not the number one sport - it's probably not even in the top five yet.
“In the year of the Covid-19 pandemic we’ve beaten the T20 world champions and the ODI world champions. So it’s been a bizarre year but satisfying - lots to take forward.”
Following a string of cancelled series this summer, Ireland’s next international fixtures are not due until January, against Afghanistan in India. Balbirnie believes the team are capable of more wins over higher-ranked opposition when they do return to the field.
“I said to the team yesterday don’t be happy with just this one win. We want to be pushing these teams as often as possible," he said. “The more cricket we play at that high level the better we’ll get.
“What I'm trying to do is create those sorts of memories as often as possible. Let's make it a habit."