IRELAND meet England at Lord’s this week for the second time in a Test. Four years ago it was a climactic event for Irish cricket, bowling out the hosts on the first morning for 85. And although they fell to a heavy defeat, it was a generally upbeat occasion on what proved to be the last Test of their careers for six of the Irishmen.

In the four years it took for the other five to put on their whites again, the world of cricket became a very different place. Indian franchise leagues spread to other lands and there is talk that leading players will be bought up by mega-clubs and released to countries whenever they decide, the reverse of the current situation.

This week England were startled when opening bat Jason Roy tore up his £66,000 contract to play in the new Major League Cricket. The Americans are reported to have offered Roy £300,000 for five weeks work.

And an Irish player could soon be in a similar dilemma, torn between playing for his country and the untold wealth of the Indian Premier League. Josh Little today plays in the IPL final for the Gujarat Titans against Chennai SuperKings, having earned $500,000 for the eight-week tournament – a sum it would take him more than four years to earn playing for Ireland. The IPL’s wealth dwarfs the rest of the sport – its current TV rights deal is worth $6billion – and the Americans and Saudis are planning their own leagues.

To play in the IPL, Little was granted a ‘no objection certificate’ by Cricket Ireland, which then made its objections clear in an interview with international business magazine Forbes.

“He's played just two out of 23 days in international cricket for us in the last four months. That's not sustainable from an investment point of view,” performance director Richard Holdsworth told the magazine. “We're paying this guy good money in terms of our structure and he's come through our system. We've developed and invested in him since a young age. Our belief is that it's good for his development and will help Irish cricket for the long term, but what we're grappling with is that we need our best team on the park.”

Little’s arrangement with CI meant he stepped away from the IPL for ten days to play three World League ODIs for Ireland earlier this month. He had just had the best spell for the Titans, winning player of the match against Kolkata Knight Riders, but the sojourn in green derailed that and he was dropped for the first two games after his return.

Sources close to Little say he was unhappy with Holdsworth’s comments and has informed Cricket Ireland he no longer wishes to be considered to play Tests, ending his career before it even had a chance to start with a dream Lord’s debut.

It removes a potent arrow from Andrew Balbirnie’s quiver, at a ground where Tim Murtagh’s skill and local knowledge proved devastating four years ago. Ireland are undercooked too: since their last visit England have played 49 tests, Ireland just three. England are now the best team in the world playing high-tempo 'bazball' devised by coach Brendon McCullum. Ireland’s bowling is much weaker, the top order fragile - it could get ugly.

Question marks hang over several heads, although the options are thin. Only once in 12 Test innings have Ireland reached 50 without losing at least two wickets. Murray Commins was discarded after scoring six runs in four innings and the pressure is now on James McCollum who has a similar name to the England coach but little else in common. His test average of 15.1 and strike rate of 41 is more Jazball than Bazball.

England’s new approach was best seen against Pakistan in November when they scored a record 506-4 in a shortened day. They scored 6.75 runs an over, a strike rate of 112, T20-style rates.

And while Ireland 2019 was packed with men with county experience, this squad has just two who had significant careers in England. That career path was removed on Ireland’s elevation to Tests. It meant the next generation were unable to learn their trade playing high quality cricket on good pitches and forced them to stay home where facilities were – and still are – poor.

It also forced players to learn on the job. Wicketkeeper Lorcan Tucker will win his 95th cap on Thursday. “It was hard to step up from club and interpro, the gulf was huge,” he says. “Guys who go through the county system adapt quicker. It took a lot longer for me, Harry (Tector) and Josh (Little) to get to the level of international cricket. My first 30, 40 games I didn’t know what I was doing. That was our school – I failed a lot, struggled for long periods, it was tough.”

Tucker didn’t play a three-day game between August 2019 and his test debut in March, and promptly scored a memorable century. “I don’t really know much about red ball cricket, we’ve hardly played any for four years,” he said. “I just tried to play what I know, which is a higher tempo cricket, with the basics in defence. It seemed to work.”

Tucker’s keen to sample familiar conditions. “This Test will be very different, with a heavy seam attack and England preparing for the Ashes. We’re not expecting to be taken lightly in any sense of the word.”