Balbirnie: Franchise raids on Ireland players will be 'knock-on effect of good cricket'

Balbirnie: Ireland must learn to live with franchise world (1:15)

Ireland captain Andrew Balbirnie is without Josh Little at Lord's and believes further absences are inevitable. (1:15)

Josh Little's appearance in front of over 100,000 Indian fans in the IPL final on Monday night will be every bit as important to the development of cricket in Ireland as the Test team's opportunity to play at Lord's, according to their captain, Andrew Balbirnie.

Speaking at Lord's on the eve of his team's one-off encounter with England, Balbirnie acknowledged the immensity of the challenge that awaits Ireland this week - not simply in facing down an opposition that has won 10 of its last 12 Tests in thrilling style, but in putting to one side the crucial World Cup Qualifiers that are looming in Zimbabwe later in June.

Little will be back with the Ireland squad for that 10-team campaign, which also features two former World Cup winners in West Indies and Sri Lanka. However, he is resting up for now after finishing as a runner-up with Gujarat Titans in a gripping IPL final that spilled into the small hours of Tuesday morning in Ahmedabad.

And while Little's absence has attracted ire, particularly from Ireland's performance director, Richard Holdsworth, Balbirnie insists that his star bowler is still doing his bit to put Irish cricket on the world map and that, given the direction of travel for international cricket, it may not be long before more of his best players are in similar demand elsewhere on the franchise circuit.

"That is something that happens above me and I've got to support what's best for Josh," Balbirnie said. "Do I want him in my team? Of course I do. He's a brilliant bowler in the white-ball format. We've seen that on the biggest stage.

"Josh is Josh. We as a team want to promote Irish cricket as best we can when we're on the pitch, but he's also doing that himself with what he's achieving on the world stage. What he is doing at the moment is only good for Irish cricket, and the development of players coming up through the ranks.

"I'm sure he does [want to play Test cricket], but I know how busy he is and the pressures that the IPL brings. He doesn't want to get back from a game in front of 100,000 people with me saying, 'Do you fancy 12 overs next week at Lord's?' You need to give him his space as well, and make sure that he's in a good frame of mind."

Little finished his maiden IPL campaign with seven wickets in ten matches, and fought his way back into the starting line-up for the play-offs and final, even after missing a fortnight in early May to play in Ireland's ODI series against Bangladesh.

"He's yet to play a Test match, but we know he's pretty adaptable and he's had a hectic schedule," Balbirnie added. "I understand completely that he's got to focus on resting up and getting ready for our World Cup Qualifier, which we head off for next week."

But, as Balbirnie conceded, success on the international stage - whether that comes through qualification for the 50- and 20-over World Cups, or through individual feats at Lord's this week - may well come with spin-off benefits for the players involved, even if it's not entirely in the interests of Ireland's international ambitions.

Citing the example of Lorcan Tucker - who picked up a deal with MI Emirates in the ILT20 last winter (and so missed a T20I tour of Zimbabwe) after his impressive displays in the T20 World Cup in Australia - Balbirnie admitted that further raids on Ireland's playing pool would be a "knock-on effect of playing good cricket", and therefore will need to be factored into the team's long-term development.

"The T20 World Cup opened a few doors to people. Lorcan played in that ILT20 at the start of the year and impressed a lot of people.

"I can't have any qualms about that because we are trying to play and entertain people and promote our game. The knock-on effect of that is these guys are going to get exposure to [franchise] leagues.

"Who knows what is going to happen in the next couple of years? We have to create a player-base in our country so if that does happen, and certain players miss certain Irish games, we have to make sure that there isn't a drop in standard when we bring a player in.

"We don't have the numbers that England, Australia, India have - in my career I don't think we ever will. But in our small pool of players, we have to make sure they are all up to speed with what we are trying to do

"Things like this will continue to happen. Josh played in an IPL final in his first IPL appearance, I'm not stupid, he's going to get picked up by other leagues and we are going to have this situation again, but he still wants to play for Ireland. I've spoken to him and he still loves playing for this team.

"But there are opportunities for him, and there will be for others. We just have to make sure that whoever comes into our group is up to speed and ready to go."