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Paul Stirling aims to make his mark on the world stage

Updated: Saturday, 08 Sep 2012 10:14 | Comments

Paul Stirling can announce himself on the world stage at the World Twenty20
Paul Stirling can announce himself on the world stage at the World Twenty20

If Ireland's Paul Stirling has any doubts about his ability to become a headline attraction at the World Twenty20, he need only look across the dressing room for inspiration.

Stirling is Ireland's most gifted player in the shortest format of the game - a clean-hitting and joyously uninhibited opening batsman who relishes the challenge of attacking.

But in last year's 50-over World Cup he, and the rest of the team, were happy to take a back seat as Kevin O'Brien ascended to hero status  with a match-winning century to defeat England.

And while O'Brien will be hoping for a reprise of his own in Sri Lanka, Stirling is the man best placed to inspire Ireland to another bout of giant-killing.

Having turned 22 this month he is still one of the side's younger players but he has no shortage of experience, racking up 38 ODIs and 17 Twenty20 internationals and also amassing 50 domestic T20 appearances.

This season has seen him cement his position with Middlesex, who now view him as one of their most bankable limited-overs performers.

In seven Friends Life t20 innings, Stirling posted 271 runs - the most at the club by a distance - and averaged north of 45.

A bruising strike-rate of 142 and a tally of 32 fours and eight sixes tell everything you need to know about how he went about getting his runs.

While Ireland's limited schedule in the format means he has not had too many chances to unleash that game at the highest level - just three of his Twenty20 caps have come against major Test-playing nations - his one-day record suggests he will not be cowed by the big boys.

His run-a-ball 109 against Pakistan last May - the second in a run of three centuries in four matches - was a turning point.

Having previously threatened to post a major total against heavyweight opposition, this was his first three-figure score against a world-class bowling attack that featured the likes of Umar Gul and Saeed Ajmal.

If he can locate something close to that form against Group B rivals West Indies and Australia, he need not feel out of place in their company.

And although Stirling's batting will always be his major selling point, he is also able to contribute with the ball.

In recent times his off-breaks have become an important part of captain Will Porterfield's arsenal and he has gone from bowling occasional tempters to regular disciplined spells.

The slow, low nature of the wickets in Sri Lanka could play into his hands.

While big turners of the ball thrive on springier tracks that allow the ball to spin briskly and bounce, Stirling's job as a rate-slowing annoyance will be made easier on the more lifeless Colombo pitches.

His role as back-up to first-choice tweaker George Dockrell may even end up crucial to Ireland's prospects of an upset.

With the eager eyes of franchise owners scouring the World Twenty20 for untapped talent, a six-hitting, spin-bowling prospect like Stirling could attract attention.

O'Brien had similar designs after his exploits against England made him an overnight celebrity in India and went on to make an unsuccessful entry into the Indian Premier League auction.

Stirling is not guaranteed to better that, but, if his fearless approach to the game thus far is anything to go by, he will not let the opportunity to cause a stir go without a fight.

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