The Celtic View from Sri Lanka: Ireland’s Road to the World T20 (part 2)
September 18th 2012 by Ajay Jonathan Gnanam | International
The view from Sri Lanka previews tomorrow morning’s game against Australia by looking back on Ireland’s time in Sri Lanka so far. Ajay Jonathan Gnanam sends us his report direct from Colombo and he is confident of a very strong showing from the Boys in Green in the coming weeks.
It’s finally here. The much anticipated ICC World Twenty20 begins today, and it doesn’t take a skilled cricket analyst to see that Ireland poses more than just a minor threat to both Australia and The West Indies. With wins in all their warm-up games, the belligerent Irish outfit looks in flying form.
I made my way to the SSC for the second half of Ireland’s clash with an experienced Sri Lanka A side. Ireland had restricted the side to a measly 104 for 9 in their 20 overs, and chased it down in 15 overs as a result of a half century by Ed Joyce, and a quick 29 off 18 balls by Kevin O’ Brien. Even though I had missed the first innings, this was made up by the fact that I got to meet several players including Kevin O’Brien and Trent Johnston!
Three days later I arrived at the Moors Sports Club for the next warm up game which took place against Zimbabwe. During a brief conversation I had with Ireland coach Phil Simmons before the start of the game, the attitudes of the team were made clear - even though the game allowed for two separate batting and fielding XI’s, the Irish were to stick with one in order to play real cricket - which clearly presented their positive mindset. Expecting to see a close game - I was treated to the very opposite; Ireland dominated the match from the very first over – off which Captain William Porterfield thumped 17 runs. Ireland ended on a whopping 181 for 5 courtesy of a classy 62 off 49 deliveries by Niall O’ Brien, who seems to be ending his cricketing year on a very positive note. The lads in green once again showed their class with the ball, as they mauled the Zimbabwean batting lineup, which was moving steadily at 74 for 2 towards the end of the ninth over, to 83 for 8 by the end of the fourteenth. Zimbabwe ended on 127, and Ireland had won by 54 runs.
The game against Bangladesh was by far the greatest challenge yet to face the spirited Irish unit. The Irish were looking for revenge after close defeats by the hands of the Bangladeshi’s in July, whilst Bangladesh wanted to maintain their good form against the Irish. To say it was a struggle to get into the game, would be a massive understatement! With plenty of high security personnel and a ‘no spectators’ policy (unless one had an official ICC pass or invite), it was close to impossible to enter the Moors Sports Club. It took plenty of persistence, as well as some assistance from Ireland’s helpful local liaison, and I finally got a comfortable seat on the grass banks near the various photographers and news reporters at the game. There was no spectator seating available at the ground but it was worth all the effort to get into the ground as I witnessed a fantastic game. Ireland made a powerful start, this time, as a result of a Stirling special; Paul Stirling blasted 71 runs off just 41 deliveries, which included 24 runs off one over by off-spinner Mahmudullah. Though the scoreboard displayed a rocketed 110 for 2 by the start of the 12th over, Ireland could only manage to reach 164 for 6 by the end of the 20th over.
The Bangladeshi’s were in an aggressive mood, even after losing Ashraful in the second over to a wonderful catch by Nigel Jones at long off, they maintained an attacking tempo. Once Shakib Al Hasan was dismissed on 52 off just 23 deliveries, Bangladesh was 105 for 3 - and required just 60 runs off 57 deliveries. However this easy target, was not as easy as it was made out to be. Kevin O’Brien bagged the wickets of captain Rahim and Nasir Hossain in the next over, and the Bangladeshi lineup began to slide. After gritty performances by Ziaur Rahman and Mashrafe Mortaza, Bangladesh was back on top with 12 to win off the last 12 balls - with 4 wickets in hand. This should have been a simple victory on any given day, but the fighting Irish thought otherwise. A wonderful penultimate over by Cusack saw the wicket of Mortaza fall, whilst more importantly only conceding 2 runs. By this stage everyone at the ground was on the edge of their seats, and the ever accurate Trent Johnston saw Ireland home, only giving away 4 runs in his last over whilst picking up a wicket and a run out.
Ireland couldn’t have asked for a better start to their world cup campaign, but what do the Celts’ performances in their warm up games demonstrate? First and fore mostly it presents the fact that the death overs are both their stronghold and downfall. The struggle to score runs in the latter overs after solid starts was apparent in Bangladesh’s July tour, particularly in the 2nd T20I in which Ireland lost by one run, and once again in the final warm up game. However beating Bangladesh when only 12 runs were required off 12 deliveries shows us how effective Ireland’s match-winning bowling performances in the death really are. The warm up games also present the good form that has affected most players in Ireland’s lineup - In the four games played there have been four different half centurions - Cusack, Joyce, Niall and Stirling respectively- with Kevin O’ Brien, Johnston and Porterfield playing vital, hard knocks in most of their innings. The bowlers have also, as always, maintained a high standard- with Cusack bowling exceptionally well as well, to provide an extra dependable option in Ireland’s T20 bowling lineup. Whilst Ireland’s fielding did seem to be slightly less in sync over the first few warm up games, by the end of the Bangladesh match all doubts had been cleared in my mind. Some great catches in the field, including a well held return catch to Cusack, were a key cause of Ireland’s 5 run victory.
As Ireland’s group clashes grow nearer, I can say with all honesty that Ireland are no longer the same side that the world first saw a glimpse of in the 2007 World Cup. They are now a professional and very polished outfit that seems to improve with every series they play. The only downturn of this is the loss of the surprise factor, now test nations face Ireland with the same mindset they have when playing each other. It makes every ball faced all the more difficult, but it makes victory even sweeter. Can the renowned giant-killers beat the Australians, The West Indians or both? They most certainly can. And as the spirited Irish march towards the cup they’ve tirelessly worked towards, they should know that Sri Lanka and the rest of the world, are behind them.
Ajay Jonathan Gnanam is a young journalist from Sri Lanka whose work has appeared on Cricinfo