ABU DHABI: The disruption to the international cricket calendar caused by the coronavirus pandemic has left cricket boards in even the wealthier cricket nations desperate to ensure funds don’t dry up. The situation is worse for associate nations, whether from a financial or game time standpoint. Therefore, the four-match ODI series between UAE and Ireland that is set to get underway from January 8 at the Sheikh Zayed Cricket Stadium comes as a massive boon to both nations. The series will be played out entirely at one venue, something that has become a familiar sight for cricket fans as the sport comes to grips with the ‘new normal’ in a world still attempting to fully deal with the issues caused by Covid-19. Ireland’s last international matches came in July-August 2020 when they toured England for a three-match ODI series played out entirely at the Rose Bowl in Southampton, with the hosts running out 2-1 winners. By contrast, UAE have had to wait nearly a year to get back to the cricket field. Their last international outing came in a ACC Twenty20 Cup encounter against Kuwait on February 27, 2020 in which they emerged victorious by 102 runs. Both UAE captain Ahmed Raza and Ireland skipper Andrew Balbirnie were grateful to be able to get a chance to just play cricket again. “Credit should be given to the Emirates Cricket Board and Cricket Ireland for bringing this series together. And I’d like to thank Andy and his team for coming down to the UAE and putting the trust in us, in our facilities and Abu Dhabi Cricket for hosting this series,” Raza said in a virtual interaction on Wednesday. “And it is our first series against Ireland ever since they got full member status and we are definitely looking forward to it,” he added. Balbirnie stated that his team was excited to get back out in the middle despite this being ‘such a strange time’ for everyone. “Thank you to everyone involved for getting us out here. It is such a strange time and yet to come out to the UAE is always enjoyable to play cricket. The boys are very excited, we went through all the protocols, all the testing, the isolation, quarantine period,” said Balbirnie. It’s going to be a busy month for Ireland as after this series, they will be taking on Afghanistan in a three-match ODI series at the same venue. However, while Balbirnie was happy at the prospect of playing cricket again, he did admit there was something else on his mind. Ireland became full ICC Members along with Afghanistan on June 22, 2017. However, since that time they have only played 3 Test matches, with the first of those matches coming nearly a year after their Test status was confirmed. “There’s no hiding from it. We’re a full member Test nation but we don’t play a lot of Test cricket. I think we’ve maybe got one scheduled at the end of this year against Sri Lanka but a lot of our focus has to be on white-ball cricket. “We have this World Cup Super League to look forward to and the T20 World Cup in India in October but Test cricket is the pinnacle of the game in my opinion. I’m fortunate to have had the opportunity to play [it] but it’s not there for us at the moment which is a shame. “We can just focus on the white-ball game and progress as much as we can.” Ireland’s record in Test cricket doesn’t make for exciting reading: Played 3, Lost 3. However they have shown flashes of quality in their brief time playing the longest format of the game. Their first Test saw them record a score above 300 in the second innings against Pakistan – although the match seemed a lost cause by that time, since Pakistan had enforced the follow-on after getting them out cheaply in the first innings. And Ireland’s most recent Test match saw them leave England on the ropes at one point, getting them all out for 85 in the first innings and actually taking a lead into the second innings. The lack of Test match cricket is a clear sore spot for the Irish cricket team. But for now, all their focus is on a UAE side who can be dangerous in home conditions.