Ireland – The Dark Horses Of The T20 World Cup
By Richard Browne
Ireland is a country of similar size to Sri Lanka off the west coast of the United Kingdom, famed for the natural bonhomie of its people, beautiful scenery, Guinness (a stout beer) and a troubled political and religious history that has now fingers crossed found peace. Change Guinness for arrack and drop the temperature by 10c and you could be talking about Sri Lanka.
Cricket though, far from being the binding factor it has been for so long in Sri Lanka was for years seen as an English game, and thus for the majority something to be scoffed at and even scorned. The minority who chose to play the game had to accept that they would never be allowed to play Gaelic football or hurling, the national games of Ireland, a harsh price to pay.
Thankfully such Draconian measures have now been lifted and cricket in Ireland is going from strength to strength. In fact in the T20 rankings, which are as mysterious as Atlanta, Ireland, sit ahead of the once mighty Australians, a rare example of Brits and Irish rejoicing in the same occurrence.
The first glorious day in Irish cricket history was in 1969 when they defeated the West Indians of Sobers and Kanhai, but this turned out to be a flash in the pan. The 2007 World Cup victory over Pakistan really started the ball rolling, although marred by the untimely death of the popular Pakistan coach Bob Woolmer.
It was last year’s World Cup win over the old enemy England though that really lit the spark, an astonishing innings by Kevin O’Brien, that Botham or Gilchrist would have cherished and the Irish go into this tournament as a known threat.
Their best batsmen is now England’s best batsmen, in the guise of the daringly unorthodox Eoin Morgan and their best bowler Boyd Rankin is playing his cricket now for English county Warwickshire who won this years championship, trying to force his way into the English team, but will be turning out for Ireland in this tournament.
Test cricket though is now a very real possibility which will hopefully stop anymore players from crossing the Irish Sea, and the passion for the game and beating the English can be seen in Fergal Keane’s, a correspondent for the national broadcaster response to the victory over England last year.
Halfway into a serious review on the economic state of the country (it boomed in the early years of the millennium, before crashing spectaculary, leaving half built housing estates dotted all over the place), he boomed:
“I’m minded to say ‘Are you watching Jeffrey Archer, Mick Jagger, Will Carling, Ian Botham, Geoff Boycott… Are you watching William Gladstone, Oliver Cromwell?”
Gladstone and Cromwell are not popular men in Ireland and politics will always be entwined with cricket in the country, but as a sounding board and call to arms for the nation it was priceless.
Long term West Indian coach Phil Simmons is still there and with the solid Ed Joyce and Morgan’s heir Paul Stirling, a man with the potential to light up the tournament at the top of the order and then the hulking and uncomplicated Kevin O’Brien coming in after them the batting has the potential to cause any team real problems.
The bowling lacks a cutting edge, but in T20 cricket that can be worked around and with new bowling coach Craig McDermott doing good things, backed up by sharp fielding, the Irish have the tools to cause the big boys more than a few headaches.
Ireland is at the lower end of the rankings but the mighty Australians are ranked below them and that must count for something. Expect a few surprises from the Irish.