George Dockrell: Wasn’t sure if Ireland would get an opportunity to play Tests during my career

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22 Jul 2020 | 09:37 AM
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Pramod Ananth

George Dockrell: Wasn’t sure if Ireland would get an opportunity to play Tests during my career

The Ireland spinner, who made his Test debut earlier this year, is set to play a key role in the upcoming tour of England

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Having impressed in the ICC Under-19 World Cup in 2010, George Dockrell was drafted straight into the Ireland senior side and he made his bow for them at just 17. Since then, Dockrell has been an integral part of the Irish set-up, playing all key tournaments like the World T20 2012, 2014 and 2016 to go with the 50-over World Cups in 2011 and 2015. 

With Ireland having gained Test status, Dockrell made his debut in the longest format earlier this year against Afghanistan, which is something he always wanted to do. With a relatively new captain at the helm, Ireland embark on a tour to England where they will play three ODIs against the world champions in what will be a stern test for them. 

Dockrell, who celebrates his 28th birthday today (July 22), speaks to Cricket.com about his journey thus far, the influence his father had on his career, dismissing Sachin Tendulkar and MS Dhoni in the same game, getting a Test cap and much more.

You made your Test debut against Afghanistan earlier this year. What was the feeling when you came on to the field to play your first-ever Test?

Making my Test debut against Afghanistan was a very, very special feeling. Growing up playing for Ireland, you see that Test cricket is the pinnacle, it’s the highest form of the game. It gave me an opportunity to play Test cricket for Ireland. It was pretty special. It’s something Irish cricket has been working towards for so many years. And for myself to finally get a Test cap was definitely one of the highlights of my career. I absolutely loved that moment. Definitely highlight of my time wearing the Irish jersey.

You’re someone who prioritized your studies and cricket at the same time. How has that worked out for you? Do you think you were able to give 100% to both?

During my career, I started off a year or two of college. And when I was over at Somerset, I kind of put that on the back burner for a while and I’ve been back to it recently. For me, it has worked out really, really well. DCU – Dublin City University – they’re incredibly accommodating and so are Cricket Ireland for helping me get help combine the two of them, there is enough time in the day to do both. I’ve definitely been able to give both of them as much time as possible. In terms of cricket sessions, I’ve never missed a session, never missed a match. Sometimes it helps if the coaches are able to do slightly different, schedule on a different day or a different time slot. I’ve always been able to get all of it done, which is brilliant.  I feel like, if anything, it has added to my cricket to have something else going on in my life that I’m passionate about, that I’m putting my energy into. 

How has your journey with Ireland been so far? You’ve been playing right from the Under-13 level to now playing at the highest level. What would you say have been some of your highs and lows with the team?

It’s been a pretty incredible journey making my debut at Under-13 and I’ve been playing for all the teams on the way through. It has been pretty interesting as well to see how Irish Cricket has developed in that time. Going from a kid, who watched the guys do so well – 2007 World Cup and to have played in the 2011 World Cup and 2015 World Cup. It has been a pretty incredible 10 years. For me, there’s definitely been some highs and lows: Some of the World Cup wins beating England at the 2011 and 2015 World Cup respectively would definitely be some of the highs. Watching some of the guys at Lord’s last year as well was pretty special. Number of lows as well: In sports, it’s never easy. There periods you go through where there are some disappointments and some losses but I suppose it makes it even better when you have those good days, when you have those wins you appreciate it even more. 

Which cricketer did you grow up idolizing and why?

Growing up, I had a number of idols. Early on, it was Marcus Trescothick and Michael Vaughan – watching them on TV. The more and more I played cricket and when I turned to spin, Daniel Vettori was someone who I kind of looked up to and someone who I wanted to emulate as I played. Those three would definitely be the ones who stick out of my mind.

Ireland waited for a long time to play Test cricket. What were the emotions of the team when the team was handed a full-member status in 2017?

It was a pretty incredible moment to have got full-member status and to have given an opportunity to play Test cricket. We were the lucky ones I suppose who have an opportunity to play but there are so many players, coaches, staff, volunteers and everyone over the years who have put in so much time and effort to get to this place. 

Photo Courtesy: George Dockrell Instagram

The lucky XI who played the first Test match and everyone since who has had the chance to play Test cricket, it’s an incredibly proud moment but it’s a testament to how far Irish cricket has come and to have got to this place. I wasn’t sure if we were going to get the opportunity to play Test cricket during my career when I first started. To improve cricket in Ireland to a place to where that was possible, to host a Test match, to be playing Test matches at Lord’s, to be touring the world playing Test matches it was very special and very exciting time ahead for any young cricketer in Ireland. 

You’ll be kicking off your 28th birthday with a practice match in England. You and the entire team must be excited to be back on the field, playing cricket at last.

Very excited to be back over in England. We’ll be playing a practice match in England. Everyone is re-energised. This break has been a nice time to take stock for everyone to refocus a little bit. Everyone is just delighted to be back over in England, back touring, back competing to play a huge series for us. Everyone’s happy about it.

How do you plan on toppling such a strong England side in their own backyard? Any particular plans in place?

England are such a strong team. Having won the World Cup last year and the way they play cricket these days it’s always exciting to watch. But I think it’s a challenge you’ve got to love, you’ve got to relish. Taking on England in their own backyard – three ODIs is a great opportunity to test yourself against some of the best in the world. A great chance to win some games, win the series on the road to World Cup qualifications. So, we’ll have some plans for how to do that, how we want to go about it. But it’s a huge opportunity for Irish cricket.

What sort of a role has your father Derek played in your cricket career? Considering he too played cricket, did you always want to become a cricketer?

My father Derek played a fair bit of cricket when he was growing up. He was the reason I got into it. He used to bring me down to his local club when I was 7 or 8. I used to watch him play. I think I was about 9 when I headed down to Leinster Cricket Club enough times. He I suppose got me into most sports and never really pushed me down the cricket route. But it’s something I became quite good at and really, really enjoyed and it was quite natural how I fell into it. But yeah, he played a huge role. Both my parents were really supportive the whole way through and probably can’t thank them enough for everything they’ve done.

You were associated with Somerset from a very young age until they released you in 2015. What sort of role did Somerset play in shaping you as a cricketer?

I went over to Somerset at quite a young age. I think I might have been 15 or 16 when I first went over for training session. It was fantastic place to go as a 17-year-old and having the 20-20 World Cup in 2010. Headed over there and signed a contract on my 18th birthday and the coaches, the players, the staff, everyone at Somerset were incredible. 

The professionalism level at the club was something I’d never experienced at that point and everyone around me just pulled me up to their level. I felt that there were a lot of things I was a little bit behind on, that I needed to work on quite quickly and it was an incredible environment to do that. So, I absolutely loved my time there. It’s an incredible place to play and an amazing fanbase as well. So, I feel very lucky to have represented them as many times as I did.

How is it playing under the captaincy of Andy Balbirnie? Both of you play for Leinster Lightning, a side you captain. 

I really enjoy playing under Andy Balbirnie. He was the captain for the Under-19 World Cup in 2010. He has been captaining me for two or three years before that and it’s quite nice now that he has taken over that role, to have had that experience of him doing that years ago. Everyone in the Irish set-up, everyone in the Irish side would know each other quite well. A lot of people would have come through the under-age system. It’s nice having good relationships like that with all the guys, especially with Balbo. I think he has started off his captaincy well. He adds some great things to the mix. I think he’ll be a great captain for a long time to come.

Tell me about that epic match in the 2011 World Cup when Ireland beat England. Do you think that’s perhaps the best match you’ve ever played in?Beating England in the 2011 World Cup would still be one of my best memories in an Irish jersey. The way the game went, chasing down that total, losing early wickets and then Kev’s (Kevin O’ Brien) knock to get us within striking distance was absolutely incredible and to do it on the biggest stage in world cricket at a World Cup in India, I think it’ll be tough to ever beat that. One of the best days of my life easily. Incredible memories of that.

Of course in the very next game, you dismissed Sachin Tendulkar and MS Dhoni. Are they two of your most priced scalps till date? Or is there any other wicket you remember fondly?

We beat England and played India next. It was 5-6 days later maybe at the same venue (M Chinnaswamy Stadium, Bangalore). Having beaten England the crowd was even better for the India game. Picking up the scalps of Tendulkar and Dhoni were incredibly special wickets to get. The two of them are absolute legends within India and within world cricket and to have gotten them in the same game was something I could have never imagined growing up, that’s what I would do at the age of 18 at a World Cup in India. It’s another day I would remember pretty fondly for the rest of my life. 

You are a regular member of the Irish side and now, you’ll play many Tests in the future as well. Do you think managing workload could be an issue?

I think within Irish cricket we’re getting more and more fixtures every year. With COVID and everything that’s happened we lost a lot of games. But again a lot of them we’ll have rescheduled for next summer. But I don’t think there’s any issue with us for workload. We’ve got a good squad now and I think we’ve really developed the depth in the last number of years. John Bracewell was probably the first coach to come in to do that. I feel like we’ve got a squad that’s got the ability to play cricket all year around. Plus great support staff around us as well, who make sure the guys are at their best as possible. So, I wouldn’t say there’s any issues with workload. We’re happy to play more and more cricket and we’d be happy to get more fixtures. 

Ireland missed out on a chance to play the 2019 World Cup following ICC’s decision to turn the tournament into a 10-team competition. Ireland had a chance to progress via the Qualifiers in 2018, but couldn’t. Do you feel the decision to reduce the teams is a tad unfair to other countries – especially the associate nations – who look to the World Cup in a bid to rub shoulders with some of the big guns?

It was disappointing to miss out on the 2019 World Cup. We were at the Qualifiers in Zimbabwe in 2018 and didn’t make it. We were I think one result away from it, but it was tough to miss out just like that, I suppose. Thus I suppose the ICC’s decision was taken to reduce it to 10 teams, even carrying on from the 2015 World Cup I think a lot of teams outside that top 10 have come a long way. West Indies and Afghanistan made it from that but it was probably one or two results away from being two different teams. I think there’s a lot of teams out there that one would want to see at the World Cup, would like to see develop the game globally. The likes of Scotland, The Netherlands, UAE, Zimbabwe and a number of others who aren’t far away either. I think the game globally would benefit hugely from them being present at World Cups. There are kind of two levels (To make the World Cup).  Once we knew that’s how it was run, we were happy to get our heads down at the Qualifier and give ourselves every chance of making it. 

One result either way, there could have been a different team there, you wouldn’t want to see either of those (West Indies or Afghanistan) not at a World Cup. It’s something I’d love to see change in the future, I’m not sure it will. For the growth of the game globally - it’s World Cups where you tend to grow your fanbase, where you get to test yourself against the best in the world consistently game after game. Those World Cups and all the work the ICC has done to get the likes of Scotland, Netherlands, UAE and ourselves up to where we’re at  and lot of those were built on World Cups. So, it’s a bit not having that avenue. I suppose those decisions are taken by people above us. All we can do is do our best to play as good cricket as possible and win games and make sure we’re actually at those World Cups regardless of the teams. But it is certainly something I would love to see – to grow the global game. Considering that teams from 10-below are getting better and better every year and that gap is closing. So, it’s something you like to see. 

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