Ireland’s Road to the T20 World Cup
July 10th 2012 by Ajay Jonathan Gnanam | International
Ireland’s Road to the T20 World Cup: The Celtic View from Sri Lanka (part 1)
Paul Stirling’s 17 ball half century against Afghanistan during the world T20 Qualifiers. Trent Johnston’s match winning six against Pakistan in 2007. Kevin O’ Brien’s tremendous roar of triumph after smashing the fastest century in World Cup history. These are moments that etch themselves into the memories of those that have been privileged enough to see them with their own eyes.
Before I continue I would like to introduce myself. I was born, bred and still live in Colombo, Sri Lanka. I’ve been a cricket enthusiast, as most Sri Lankans are, for many years now. The first time I heard about the Irish cricket team was in 2007, during the cricket world cup. When I first saw Ireland’s name amongst the 16 other teams, I was uninterested. I thought they would be, as most associates before them have been, a typical B-tier cricketing nation that would qualify for the world cup and have no real impact. Little did I know that the lads in green were about to put my ignorant mindset to shame.
On 15th March 2007 came the first tremor. Ireland had managed to tie a game with Zimbabwe, which was fairly impressive for a side that had only gained ODI status in 2006. Though I never watched that game, it sparked a slight interest in me for a side I had disregarded initially. Two days later I sat down to watch little Ireland take on Pakistan, a side fancied to win the World Cup. As Pakistan were put in to bat first I can honestly say I never expected the events that were about to unfold in Jamaica. Pakistan lost a wicket in the first over and never recovered- once Ireland were put in to bat they reached Pakistan’s total after a fighting innings by Niall O’ Brien, which was unarguably one of the greatest moments in cricketing history. Ireland then went on to the super eights, where they added Bangladesh to their quickly growing collection of scalps, I now fully respected a side that was unheard of in mainstream cricket communities before- but I can’t say that I was a supporter of the team by any means at the time.
After the 2007 World Cup, which ended quite anti-climatically for all Sri Lankan supporters in a rain-affected final - my interest in the sport went into a decline. It wasn’t due to Sri Lanka’s loss in the one sided final, but due to the repetitive nature of the game. For years the game had always revolved around the same big eight, the test playing nations minus Zimbabwe and Bangladesh, and that seemed like something that wasn’t going to change in the short term. I half-followed the odd series but apart from that my love for the game was, simply put, dying.
When the 2011 World Cup arrived I, like most people, decided to follow the tournament since it was at the end of the day, a large global event. When I saw that Ireland was due to face Bangladesh in one of the first games of the tournament I felt a surge of excitement. I knew they had the potential to spark a fire in the initial stages of the cup and I awaited the game with anticipation. I was obviously disappointed when Ireland failed to chase Bangladesh’s total of 205. Ireland, the team that rose up from almost nowhere in 2007 had let themselves fall like most associates before them had. A few days later when they took on England, they were dominated from the very beginning of the game. Once England had posted their total of 327, I knew the Irish boys had no chance. This was confirmed when captain William Porterfield was bowled out on the first ball of Ireland’s innings. I still to this day do not know why I continued watching that game, where Ireland had no chance of getting close to England’s total let alone win the game. Maybe it was instinct, but more likely the fact that I had examinations in a week and was reluctant to head back to textbooks and messy notes. When Ireland were floundering at 111 for 5- I was about to get up and switch off the T.V. but for some reason, which I still to this day do not know- I decided to watch one last over. That decision changed my life before my very eyes.
During that over Kevin O’Brien calmly slugged two boundaries off England’s Michael Yardy, who ended with 10 runs off his over. That led to me making the decision to watch an additional over, where Kevin swiped two identical sixes off Graeme Swann. I then decided to watch the game for just a little while more, as I then expected an interesting (but possibly short) cameo by the man at the crease.
By the time the game was reaching its final stages, I was out of my seat again. Not because I was contemplating leaving again, but because the tension had taken its toll. Never before in my life had I seen a game like this- after the winning runs were scored I was in shock, the impossible had just occurred in front of my very own eyes. Ireland had beaten England.
The whole world was in a euphoric state after that game. Everyone was texting, updating their Facebook pages and tweeting about Kevin O’ Brien, John Mooney, Alex Cusack and their team that had turned the tables in a game that they had no chance of winning. This team had just reignited my love for the game again in the space of two hours. I continued to follow Ireland very closely through the course of the world cup, where they continued to show they meant business- running most of the other teams dangerously close and beating the Netherlands in another high scoring encounter. Over the following months with the ICC’s announcement of the 10 team world cup, my interest turned to passion as I got involved and supported this wonderful team in any way I could. I met several other Irish fans through multiple forums on the internet, towards the end of 2011 a friend started Cricket Ireland Fans, a forum on Facebook for people to discuss Irish cricket, which I became an admin of- and eventually our little group grew from just 10 members to over 300 during the space of a few months showing the growing global interest in the team - our membership ranks include the likes of Paul Stirling and Kevin O’ Brien!
Sri Lankans in general have a certain amount of respect for the Irish side. People still remember that March nigh in Bengaluru where Ireland shocked the world. The main reason for this support is not only because Ireland keep an otherwise predictable sport fresh and full of suspense, but because the Celtic side is reminiscent of a progressing Sri Lankan team from the 90s that carried on to the early 2000’s. Plenty of Sri Lankan cricket enthusiasts have pointed out the similarities between Paul Stirling and The Ceylonese legend Sanath Jayasuriya – will Stirling do for Ireland what Sanath once did for a young Sri Lankan outfit that dared to dream big?
I can honestly say that I am a Sri Lankan and proud. I can also honestly say that I’m a diehard supporter of the Irish cricket team, that incredible group of individuals that show the world that the impossible is in fact possible if you just set your mind to it. They give the cliquey sport of cricket the new exciting flavor that it requires to break out of its monotonous shell. Does Ireland have the potential to gain test status soon? It’s a strong possibility and something they deserve. Does Ireland have the potential to win the T20 World Cup? Without a doubt!
Ajay Jonathan Gnanam is a young journalist from Sri Lanka whose work has appeared on Cricinfo