A Legend Unsung: Does Paul Stirling Get Enough Credit For What He’s Done For Ireland?
It should be said in no uncertain terms that July 1, 2008 was not some random or an undramatic day in the history of the world. A poll conducted in Washington on the very date revealed that nine out of 10 Americans were hit hard by the ballooning gas prices. Meanwhile, in the European heartland, France took over the EU Presidency for the first time on this date.
A less than glorious debut for Paul Stirling
At the same time, it was on the very same date where the Iraqi foreign minister Hoshyar Zebari said private security contractors, like Blackwater USA, whose employees killed 17 Iraqi civilians in 2007, will no longer be immune from Iraq’s laws.
But something quite interesting took place albeit on a cricket field on July 1, 2008 and that too, miles away from Iraq, the United States or France.
At Aberdeen, Scotland, a young Irish cricketer was making his debut facing a stern and vastly superior opponent in New Zealand. The one-day international debut didn’t last for long and the innings ended after 16 deliveries and some 35 odd minutes.
The teenager, who was all of 18, could make only 4 runs as his team went on to lose the contest by a massive margin of 290 runs.
Coming of age
Fourteen years on from the cold and gloomy Aberdeen afternoon, we find Paul Stirling as the most experienced man in the Irish line-up with no fewer than 140 ODI appearances to his name.
In so doing, the new arrivee who had faced the likes of Tim Southee, Jacob Oram and Jeetan Patel albeit without much success on 1 July 2008 has some 5,100 runs against his name.
In an age where there are mediocre careers and at the same time, careers that don’t last longer akin to say, a T20I, Paul Robert Stirling has become the go-to batsman for Ireland in the game.
He arrived in the sport when T20 was the new kid on the block and today he’s playing with a talented bunch of kids when you think of Harry Tector and Curtis Campher. He’s seen generations change; having played under the captaincy of Kyle McCallan and having batted around a talented trinity comprising Kevin O’Brien, Niall O’Brien and Gary Wilson to today being the experienced pro looked upto by all in the side whether Mark Adair, Andy McBrine, Andy Balbernie and Lorcan Tucker.
In a sport where things change in a flash and where perhaps consistency is the only key to success, Paul Stirling has remained the constant Ireland needed in order to grow in stature and experience.
From being a beginner with little or no luck coming to his side to being a batting supremo who plays with little held back, his is a tale of courage, passion and inspiration.
And lest it is forgotten, longevity!
Paul Stirling, truthfully speaking, has done far more for Ireland than he’s been credited for; besides having 264 international caps against his name from which he’s amassed 8,400 plus runs, he’s stayed at the wicket during a change of guard in Irish cricket as one generation exited the scene for the incoming one to get its eye in.
Besides featuring 55 limited overs series’ for his country and participating in two ODI (50 over) World Cups and four T20I world Cups, Paul Stirling has cracked no fewer than 14 tons and 47 fifties, the most by any player in the current Irish line-up.
While it took him nearly 28 T20I series’ to register his first three-figure-mark, his unbeaten 115 off just 75 deliveries rocking Zimbabwe in late 2021, Paul Stirling was more aggressive and on the money in the 50-over format where clocking up centuries was concerned.
He would score his maiden three-figure mark in ODI cricket in just his 20th outing, smashing a rollicking 177 against Canada at Toronto on September 7, 2010. He was only 20 then.
Interestingly, his initial few scores that very year read 51, 36 and 87 in one-day cricket.
From there on in, he’d fire hundreds against Scotland (113 in 2011 at the Grange Cricket Club), Pakistan (103 in Dublin) and so on and so forth.
Though, it could be argued that amongst the least appreciated facts about Paul Striling is that there wasn’t one single year from the beginning of 2017 until the end of 2022 where he didn’t fire an ODI century, registering emphatic three-figure-scores against the likes of Afghanistan, UAE and even New Zealand.
On July 15, 2022, Paul Stirling thudded a powerful 103-ball-120 in a nerve wracking exhibition of big-hitting at the Village in his Ireland, tussling with the likes of Santner, Tickner, Henry and amongst the fastest speedsters in the current game: Lockie Ferguson. Though he batted for nearly 35 overs, his team went down by a painful margin of a solitary run.
Combining the ability to defend or defy the new ball especially in tough conditions to that ability to changing gears rather speedily, Paul Stirling is a dangerous customer in the middle and one that stands true to the adage that when the going gets tough, the tough get going.
He’s anchored Ireland during some of their most testing periods in the game, when the now full time ICC member had to play the ICC world cup qualifiers having been an “Associate” member back in the day. Lending useful experience that measures no less than a decade and a half, the belligerent right-hander forms the key think-tank of the current side with other cerebral forces being Andy McBrine and Andy Balbernie.
But it could be argued that the thing that most strikes the mind is just how well Paul Stirling’s fared away from the comfort of playing in home conditions; pitches that you’d call lush green akin to Ireland’s national jersey.
Is it not unfair that we hear and get to read so little about Stirling who, in the span of 2008 until 2022, stroked 3511 of his 5185 runs away from home whilst holding fort and as it turned out, often alone?
Which beckons a question- should only greats of the game like Virat, Rohit, Smith, Gayle, and Warner be celebrated; can world press not do enough to bring shiny lights on unsung heroes such as Paul Stirling whose contributions are about as timely for their team as they are momentous?