There were not many positives for Ireland during Thursday’s defeat by England in Southampton – but one was the performance of debutant Curtis Campher.
The 21-year-old top-scored with 59 not out in the first one-day international, and took a wicket with his fourth ball, leading his captain Andrew Balbirnie to describe it as as good a debut he had seen for Ireland in recent years.
Born in Johannesburg and a South Africa Under-19 international, Campher has not taken the conventional route into the Ireland team.
The all-rounder has an Irish passport – his Irish grandmother was a nurse in Londonderry – but it was a chat with former Ireland international Niall O’Brien in the middle of a match that set him on his way to representing the country.
Ireland were in Pretoria in 2018, playing a warm-up against an Easterns and Northerns Combined XI before the qualification tournament for the 2019 World Cup.
Campher, then 19, impressed with 49 from 39 balls for the South African side – and a whisper into the ear of O’Brien about his Irish ancestry sent him on his way.
“It wasn’t really anything else apart from tongue in cheek, trying to get over and play some club cricket,” Campher said.
“He said, ‘listen you’re a good player, I will chat to you after the game’, and that is where one thing led to another.”
Thursday’s debut in Southampton came even though Campher has yet to play a game of cricket in Ireland – he has relocated to Dublin this year where he will play for YMCA Cricket Club – and could hardly have come in more difficult circumstances.
The first ball he faced in international cricket was a hat-trick chance for David Willey, with Ireland 28-5 against the world champions.
After seeing off Willey, Campher complied a patient unbeaten half-century, without which Ireland’s total could have broken the wrong kind of records.
It resulted in praise on commentary from England great Kevin Pietersen, another South Africa-born international cricketer and someone Campher admitted was a cricketing hero of his.
Later, Campher struck in his first over with the ball when he had Tom Banton caught off a top edge – a curious twist of fate for the seamer who also dismissed Banton in a game for South Africa Under-19s in 2018.
“One of the guys in the huddle said ‘this is your day, you don’t get many more like this’,” Campher said.
“I was lying in bed thinking it can only go downhill – but hopefully it doesn’t.
“It has been a dream come true to make my ODI debut. I didn’t expect it to happen so soon and it has been amazing so far.
“The biggest thing the guys said to me is to take it all in and really enjoy the day and I think I did that quite well.
“You only have an ODI debut once and I really loved it.
“To play against world champions and play nicely is just the cherry on top.”