In the past, Ireland has often been a thorn in the flesh of the more established teams
Ireland heads to Sri Lanka for the ICC World Twenty20 2012 knowing only too well what lies ahead if it puts up a good show on the grand stage. Impress here, and it could go a long way towards helping the team gain regular international matches.
Ireland has made a habit of upsetting the biggies. The trend started at the ICC World Cup 2007, where it stormed into the Super Eights after beating Pakistan by three wickets. Though it failed to progress to the semi-finals, a huge 74-run win against Bangladesh ensured that it ended the tournament on a high.
It progressed to the second stage of the ICC World Twenty20 2009 after beating Bangladesh – its first Twenty20 International against one of the established sides.
The following year, it was unfortunate to be eliminated by England, the eventual winners. Having restricted England to 120 for eight, Ireland watched with great chagrin as the match was then washed out. However, it gained revenge of sorts at the ICC World Cup 2011. In one of the most memorable matches of the tournament, Ireland chased down England’s 327 through Kevin O’Brien’s sensational century to secure a three-wicket win. It was the biggest successful chase in ICC Cricket World Cup history.
Having improved extensively, Ireland naturally feels the need for better competition against teams of higher stature. Beating Afghanistan by five wickets in the ICC World Twenty20 2012 qualifier secured its place in the tournament proper and has given it the chance to do so, but now comes the real test. Ireland will have to navigate through a group that has Australia and West Indies.
Getting through this group will be a remarkable achievement for Ireland, which has won eight of 11 T20 matches played so far this year, spread over three series. However, all those eight wins came against Associate nations - Kenya, Scotland, Canada, The Netherlands and Afghanistan. In July, though, Ireland lost all three matches in a home series to Bangladesh.
Its preparation for the ICC World Twenty20 hasn’t been ideal either. Warm-up plans for the tournament were jeopardised when South Africa A pulled out of its tour of Ireland, citing poor weather conditions. That has left Ireland woefully short of match experience and compounded problems. John Mooney, a valuable all-rounder remembered for scoring the winning runs against England at the ICC Cricket World Cup 2011, was ruled out of the ICC World Twenty20 2012 with a fractured finger a day before the squad was to be announced.
Happily though, Mooney’s absence remains the only concern. Stuart Thompson, the 21-year-old all-rounder, has been called up as replacement and will take his place alongside what is an experienced contingent. Apart from Thompson, Tim Murtagh and Max Sorensen, the rest of the team has played in previous ICC tournaments. William Porterfield leads a side that includes Ed Joyce, Kevin and Niall O’Brien, and Nigel Jones.
Ireland will begin its campaign against Australia at the R Premadasa Stadium in Colombo, knowing that a win could guarantee progress to the next round. That progress is key to their quest for better cricket.