As we approach the return of white-ball cricket with England hosting Ireland, we look at some key players worth watching in the first of the three-match series.

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After the culmination of the three-match Test series between England and West Indies, the 50-over format returns following a lengthy lay off due to the global pandemic. England will be hosting a three-match ODI series against Ireland at Southampton, starting from Thursday. This series launches the World Cup Super League – the International Cricket Council’s (ICC) qualifying tournament for the 2023 Cricket World Cup.

Here, we have a look at a couple of players from each team who can make a difference in the first of the three-match ODI series.  

Moeen Ali

Named as vice-captain for the series, Moeen Ali will be keen to put in some good displays against Ireland. The English all-rounder looks like he’s in good nick and will want to carry his form into the three-match ODI series. He recently starred for Team Moeen in a warm-up match against Team Morgan, scoring a 45-ball 85.

Moeen’s barnstorming 85 helped post more than 300 on the scoreboard and set up an easy victory for his team. More than capable of making a difference with his right-arm off-breaks, Moeen will also be a threat with the ball and can cause problems for the Irish batsmen with his spin and guile.      

David Willey

Left-arm pacer David Willey will be eager to prove a point on his return to England’s ODI setup after being dropped from the team just before their World Cup triumph last year. Part of the English squad for most series prior to the World Cup, Willey will be eager to make up for lost time. Tailor-made for cricket’s shorter formats, Willey offers the team something with both bat and ball.

A natural competitor, his aggression with the ball and innovation with the bat will be something for Ireland to worry about. Interestingly, his first-ever cap for England came against Ireland in 2015 and the feisty Englishman will be looking to make an impact as he returns to the international arena against the same opponents.    

Paul Stirling

The Irish opener will have a big say in his team’s fortunes as he looks to set the tone of their innings at the top of the order. A naturally attacking player, Paul Stirling likes to dominate opposition bowlers and leave his mark on the game. His ability to frequently find the boundaries makes him a threat against any side and England will want to see his back sooner rather than later.

Stirling offered us a glimpse of what he’s capable of in Ireland’s practice match against England Lions on Sunday. He scored 53, hitting four fours and three sixes along the way. Furthermore, his experience of playing 10 seasons of county cricket for Middlesex at Lords stands him in good stead to navigate English conditions.

Andy Balbirnie

The Irish skipper also had a good outing during their practice match against England Lions. Andy Balbirnie scored 60 after coming to the crease following the loss of the first wicket and looked comfortable out in the middle, for the most part, hitting seven fours along the way.

Like Stirling, Balbirnie is another Irishman to follow the path to Middlesex and has an idea of what to expect in England’s seam-friendly conditions. Balbirnie has also been in good form of late and got his fair share of runs against the likes of West Indies and Afghanistan in both ODIs and T20Is earlier this year. He will be hoping for more of the same come Thursday.

Feature image courtesy: AFP / Geoff Caddick

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