Ireland have a problem going into the 2011 Cricket World Cup. Four years since nudging the old farts of world cricket into life with an unexpectedly successful debut in the West Indies, the onus is on the Irish to repeat the trick this time around. It is, admittedly, their own doing, but not necessarily a bad thing.
Having fought back to earn a breathtaking draw with Zimbabwe in their opening game, the prospect of a St Patrick’s Day victory over a talented Pakistan side still seems as incredulous now as it would have done before the players took to the field in Kingston. Ireland? The Super Eights? It sounded like the Guinness talking.
While the 2007 World Cup came to be infamous for events more tragic, it was no surprise that Ireland were being talked about in terms arguably unthought-of before the tournament had started. But their performance laid a new benchmark for Irish cricket – progress was a bonus in 2007; in 2011, it may be expected.
The ICC’s token effort to help Irish cricket continue its development following the World Cup starved the country of any real chance of kicking on. Bangladesh aside, there were no wins in two World Twenty20s (2009 and 2010); tournaments that offered half-chances of something special but ultimately saw Ireland fall short.
Irish players have the ability – no doubt about it. But experience is lacking. Except if you’re Ed Joyce, reacquired by the Shamrocks, after being taken, used and then discarded by England. Perhaps they hit the ICC’s glass ceiling too soon – perhaps the suits in Dubai weren’t ready for the emergence of the Irish.
Three ICC tournaments later, that glass ceiling is spick and span due to Ireland’s continued brush with it. And life underneath it will only get tougher, with strong competition from Afghanistan, Netherlands et al. The 2011 World Cup is an chance to remind the ICC that the Irish rang and want the call to be returned.
For the Irish to make that desired, indelible mark on the tournament, a lot will rest on the shoulders of the squad that has been assembled. It has as much experience as you could hope for. While Eoin Morgan joins the ranks of England’s walking wounded, Joyce has rejoined the Irish set-up alongside the O’Brien brothers; Johnston; Rankin; Botha; White; and captain Porterfield – the 2007 vintage is there.
Located among the old hands of the squad are the young pretenders – George Dockrell and Paul Stirling. Much is expected of the pair, both of whom already play county cricket. And yet for all the hope that the duo use the World Cup to well-and-truly announce their arrival on the World Stage, the nagging fear is that England will be touting the benefits of full member status under their noses sooner rather than
If the fate of the Irish is to come down to personal battles, then Boyd Rankin is going to have to ruffle a few feathers lifting the ball high off the featherbed sub-continent pitches and into the unassuming grills of top order and tail end batsmen. And in the middle overs, the guile and experience of Johnston and Botha can them come into play. If Dockrell can turn it sideways in Murali and Kumble’s backyard, then it will be a difficult, if not completely problematic, attack to see off.
With the bat, William Porterfield will have to be the dependable rock on which the innings are built. Stirling – Emerging Player of the Year and Associate and Affiliate Player of the Year nominee in 2010 – boasts a decent one day international average so far but faces a baptism of fire against some of the world’s premier bowlers who happen to be in Ireland’s group.
Ireland can be frustratingly flaky with the bat and this will have to be ditched in favour of gritty obstinacy. Up against India, South Africa and West Indies, as well as England, Netherlands and Bangladesh in the group stage, life won’t be easy. It probably won’t be uttered publicly, but Ireland will be eyeing up a quarter final berth. Porterfield is confident of it, but it would need a greater effort than 2007 to do so.
If they are to escape the group stage, they pretty much have to beat the Netherlands and Bangladesh to give themselves a realistic chance. An injury-troubled England probably also have to be toppled, as three wins should be enough and you can’t see an Irish victory coming against the West Indies, South Africa or India. If either of those three are conquered by the Irish, Lord Lucan will be offering you a lift on Shergar.
The stakes for Ireland at the World Cup are high – almost as high as the glass ceiling they have familiarised themselves over the past few years. But if they can achieve qualification to the quarter finals, the rewards for Irish cricket could be great. Maybe good things come to those who wait.