Ireland's James McCollum entering second chapter of international career determined to savour every moment

It has been a long two years for James McCollum but he’s set to enter what feels like the second chapter of his Irish international career with a new sense of freedom.
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The last of his 12 Ireland appearances across formats came against Afghanistan in January 2021 while his – and the country’s – previous Test outing was nearly four years ago in a famous occasion at Lords where they had England sweating for large periods.

Andrew Balbirnie’s men make their return to the longest format on Tuesday against Bangladesh in Mirpur, where 27-year-old McCollum is hoping to be selected to open the batting and end a frustrating period on the sidelines.

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It was a tough introduction to international cricket for a player that has long been one of the NCU’s premium talents, not reaching double figures in any of his first five innings, but everything started to click in mid-summer of 2019 when he put together consecutive half-centuries in Belfast versus Zimbabwe.

James McCollum celebrates scoring a half-century against Zimbabwe in July 2019James McCollum celebrates scoring a half-century against Zimbabwe in July 2019
James McCollum celebrates scoring a half-century against Zimbabwe in July 2019

That experience has helped to give McCollum a new perspective heading into what will be a busy period with two Tests against Sri Lanka also coming up later this month.

"It was definitely a chastening introduction to international cricket with a few low scores in my first games and then I found my feet a bit with back-to-back fifties,” he said. “It was very much a case of learning on the job.

"I didn't feel at that point of my career that my white ball cricket was necessarily good enough to perform consistently at that level. I did start to find my feet but to be honest I look back on it now thinking I put a lot of pressure on myself and when you do that the fear of failure creeps in and kills the enjoyment of playing for your country.

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"If anything, two years sitting on the sidelines has made me feel like I've done the hard work and I know I have the ability to do it in red ball cricket. I really want to savour and enjoy it because playing red ball cricket really is a privilege.

"I'm 27 now and I'm very much focused on enjoying my cricket. Before it was more about performances, outcomes and winning games, whereas now being a bit older and having a bit more understanding of myself and cricket, it's more about getting off the field right and whatever happens on the pitch happens and being accepting of that."

Being a red-ball specialist in Ireland has been the toughest gig for players in recent years with the Covid pandemic and the Inter-Provincial calendar being purged of most long-form cricket severely limiting opportunities.

Combine that with the conditions they will face in Bangladesh, it’s fair to say that Ireland are underdogs, but McCollum likes that feeling and says the group are looking to create their own piece of history.

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“I've been more suited to the red ball game and we haven't had that opportunity but in white ball I've had enough opportunities to get myself back in the team and put myself in positions that I could have potentially done that and didn't capitalise on forties and fifties,” he added.

“It's been a frustrating couple of years but feels really good to be back with the opportunity of playing three Test matches with a bit of continuity in the format which we haven't had before.

"It's a really exciting time not just for me but a lot of guys could make their debuts. We could have six debutants on this trip so it's very exciting for everyone.

"What we learned over the last four years is that we can't take this for granted. I remember walking off the pitch at Lords and as gutted as we were not to win the game I remember thinking we will have the opportunity to do it again next year and now it's four years later.

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"The only expectation comes from ourselves and our own standards but I don't think people are expecting us to win out here and that's quite an unshackling feeling I think.

"It gets rid of a lot of the pressure that comes in other formats where the lads have got themselves to a stage where people expect performances because they have been good over the last couple of years."

The overriding emotion for McCollum is one of excitement with this block of Tests followed by another trip to Lords in June as England prepare for the Ashes.

Now back in the fold, the Waringstown man is determined to make the most of it and savour every minute.

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"It just feels like it has been a long time since I played international cricket,” he said. “I now feel like I'm coming from a place of enjoying my cricket and whatever happens will happen.

"I'm enjoying being here and I would be delighted to walk out and open the batting if I get the nod.

"I'm really excited and my family are coming out for the Sri Lanka leg so it will be nice to have them there watching if I play those games.

"It's more excitement and speaking to the other lads they are coming from a similar place. We have the chance to really make a bit of history on this tour and that's a really exciting prospect."