The outcome of the game between Ireland and Zimbabwe could decide who qualifies for Group 1 of the Super 10 stage
The Sylhet Divisional Stadium is by far the most scenic cricket ground in Bangladesh. Surrounded by hills and nestled next to the Lakkatura Golf Club Field, it will make its debut as a Twenty20 International venue when it hosts all six Group B qualifying matches in the ICC World Twenty20 2014.
Ireland and Zimbabwe, the two strongest teams in the group, will put the venue on the world map when they lock horns on Monday (March 17) in a match with a potentially massive consequence. The Netherlands, incredibly weakened through the non-availability of Ryan ten Doeschate, and the United Arab Emirates are the other two teams in the group and aren’t here only to make up the numbers, but the race for the lone Super 10 spot from this qualifying group is likely to be confined to Zimbabwe, the vastly experienced Test-playing nation, and Ireland, who has shown itself to be quite a force in limited-overs internationals.
Where Zimbabwe has the clear edge in terms of reasonably regular taste of high-grade cricket, Ireland is a dangerous side with at least half a dozen of its players regulars on the English county circuit. They, therefore, understand the demands and the requirements of the 20-over game, and possess in Kevin O’Brien one of the more dynamic players in the qualifying group, someone who can alter the course of the game in practically no time at all.
Ireland defeated Nepal by five wickets but was then soundly beaten by Bangladesh, by 44 runs, in its two warm-up games in Fatullah, but beyond the fact that it helped him suss the conditions in this country, how much should be read into those results is open to debate. The consensus is that Sylhet will offer less to the spinners than other venues in Bangladesh, but until the matches get underway, it is difficult to state with any certainty exactly how the pitch will behave.
Ireland, though, has every reason to feel it has most bases covered when it comes to its bowling. In Tim Murtagh and Max Sorensen, it has proven fast bowlers while George Dockrell, still only 21, is a quality left-arm spinner who has proven credentials, with 30 wickets from 23 T20Is and an exceptional economy rate of 5.94.
Ireland has more concerns about its batting despite the presence of accomplished performers like William Porterfield, the long-serving captain, Ed Joyce, Paul Stirling and O’Brien brothers Kevin and Niall. Zimbabwe has a trio of legspinners in its midst including Tafadzwa Kamungozi, the 26-year-old who played the last of his four One-Day Internationals in October 2006, and while not all three of them will play, it has enough spinning depth to pose Ireland more than the odd uncomfortable question.
Zimbabwe has a settled and confident look about them, though it did receive a wake-up call when Hong Kong stunned it by four wickets in its first warm-up game in Chittagong last week. It bounced back quickly from that loss to drub Afghanistan in its next game, Hamilton Masakadza leading the way with a rapid 93 at the top of the tree. Masakadza, Elton Chigumbura, Vusi Sibanda and Brendan Taylor, the captain, are its batting stalwarts; there is a balance to the team that gives Taylor numerous bowling options as well, including the offspin of Prosper Utseya, intelligent, probing and always dangerous.
In many ways, this is a battle of the equals, the outcome of which, all other things being equal, should decide who joins South Africa, Sri Lanka, England and New Zealand in Group 1 of the Super 10. But then again, stranger things have happened in cricket in general, and in T20 cricket in particular.
Ireland: William Porterfield (capt), Alex Cusack, George Dockrell, Ed Joyce, Andy McBrine, Tim Murtagh, Kevin O’Brien, Niall O’Brien (wk), Andrew Poynter, James Shannon, Max Sorensen, Paul Stirling, Stuart Thompson, Gary Wilson, Craig Young.
Zimbabwe: Brendan Taylor (capt, wk), Tendai Chatara, Elton Chigumbura, Takadzwa Kamungozi, Timycen Maruma, Hamilton Masakadza, Shingi Masakadza, Natsai M’shangwe, Tinashe Panyangara, Vusi Sibanda, Sikandar Raza, Prosper Utseya, Brian Vittori, Malcolm Walller, Sean Williams.