Ireland head coach Heinrich Malan has admitted for the first time his surprise at the lack of structure in Cricket Ireland when he arrived here in March 2022.

While admitting that a delay in funding from ICC has delayed progress, the South African stressed that certain things need to be prioritised and 2024 will be a big year for Ireland, with the highlight their participation in the T20 World Cup in June.

“It’s a big year on the back of being able to implement one or more aspects of structure and a system and bringing players through rather than just exposing them by being selected to play international cricket,” said Malan, on his return from the Emerging Ireland tour to West Indies and ahead of the T20 and one-day international series against Zimbabwe, which starts next week.

“That’s what suirprised me the most, the lack of a current understanding of what a structure looks like. We have no first class cricket but we have played four Test matches this year and in Antigua we have just had five guys who made their first class debuts so we have to put a structure in place that helps these guys

“Hopefully we will get clarity shortly from ICC as to what the funding model looks like and we can put up those pathways because we need more contracted domestic cricketers

"I was anticipating that last year we would have introduced first class cricket again but that didn’t happen and while we can’t afford everything we need to prioritise and getting those big rocks right.”

Looking ahead to the six-match series against Zimbabwe – the squad leave today – Malan is hoping that the 10-week break since their last international action will restore some positivity after a mainly disappointing summer of results.

“It’s been a nice break because it was pretty constant for six months (they played 26 games). But they boys have been in Spain to get on grass for our preparation so we have learned from last year when we went to Bangladesh into an ODI straight from the indoor centre,” he added.

“Lads are excited to play, some have missed out on the franchise leagues but we have three training days before the first game next Thursday and I’m pretty sure on the back of a good rest we will be able to hit the ground running and play some good cricket for a consistent period."

It is also the first series since Paul Stirling was appointed white-ball captain and Malan is looking forward to working with him on a permanent basis.

“From a tactical point of view Paul looks at the game so differently from the rest of the lads. He thinks deeply about the game and ensuring we get stuck into our preparation and planning and is engaged with the analytical side of the game,” said his coach.

“But, in the same breath, he has shown over a period of time he is a quality performer and is very vocal that captaincy is something he wants to do but it’s not going to change the way he plays and he wants to lead from the front through his actions.”