World T20: Ireland Preview
Nobody with any interest in Associate cricket could fail to be impressed by Ireland’s achievements during the last decade.
Whether in nurturing a rich seedbed of talent at grassroots level or recording some sensational results, including victories over England, Pakistan and the West Indies at the World Cup, the Irish have punched way above their weight and surpassed any of the other emerging nations.
Part of their success lies in the dedication shown by tough-as-teak individuals in the mould of Niall O’Brien, Will Porterfield, Boyd Rankin and Gary Wilson, who have made the transition to the English county circuit and attained the consistency to prosper at the highest level.
In that regard, they have taught one or two of their Scottish counterparts about the benefits of making sacrifices and being prepared to graft at the coalface.
Yet anybody who has watched Ireland’s rugby side struggle in the ongoing Six Nations Championship will recognise that the success of small countries tends to run in cycles. And there have to be concerns that Erin’s cricketers are in danger of heading down the same path.
Certainly, nobody can deny the scale of the task facing Porterfield and his personnel at the World T20 event in India next week, where they have to beat Bangladesh and The Netherlands to progress to the main event.
Until recently, one would have fancied their prospects of achieving that outcome, but Bangladesh have made significant strides forward in the last 12 to 18 months, and recorded a string of impressive triumphs against the Test elite.
In Asian conditions, and with the likelihood of an exuberant support, they have to be considered favourites to progress further in a group which also includes Oman.
Unsurprisingly, the Irish coach, John Bracewell, doesn’t view matters in that light and, to be fair, his squad boasts a wealth of experienced stalwarts who have shone on the global stage.
They know how to win in a cauldron and, in the recently-returned Rankin and Tim Murtagh, they have a quality opening attack, in addition to a spinner of the calibre of George Dockrell.
As Bracewell said: “The squad has got a real balance to it, with that blend of youth and experience that every coach likes. Ireland are now regular performers on the international stage, so there is no fear and no intimidation factors.
“We are well prepared for this competition and this will be another great chance for the squad to showcase Irish cricket to a global audience in the coming days and weeks.
“The guys are really determined to prove they belong at the top level of the sport.”
No less than five in their ranks – Porterfield, Paul Stirling, Wilson and the O’Brien brothers, Niall and Kevin, are gearing up for their fifth World T20 tournament which is a magnificent testimony to their resilience, bloody-mindedness and sheer commitment to being the best they can be.
And, to some extent, it is shameful that some of the elite ICC nations still seem to turn their noses up at these Associate champions.
That motivation, in itself, will ensure they come roaring out of the blocks against Oman on Wednesday and one fancies they would advance if they had been drawn – as Scotland have been – against Zimbabwe and Hong Kong.
But that Bangladesh contest could be a bridge too far unless Ireland improve on a few under-par showings in recent months.
They have the ability and their exploits brook no argument. But, sooner or later, every sportsman hits the wall – just ask the talismanic rugby duo, Brian O’Driscoll or Paul O’Connell.
The question is whether the Irish can produce another fairytale chapter after a decade of pulling rabbits out of hats.