Ireland set for Kenyan challenge
Ian Callender (Belfast Telegraph)
JUST two weeks after Cricket Ireland set out their vision to become a Test nation by 2020, the team get their first chance to put the aim into practice.
The Ireland squad left last night for Kenya and a two-week, six-game tour which starts on Sunday with the four-day Intercontinental Cup game against the Africans. The competition is the closest that Associate members currently have to Test cricket and Ireland have never had a greater incentive to perform in the longest form of the game.
There was further motivation for Ireland to regain the trophy they won on three successive occasions between 2005 and 2008 with the publication of the Woolf report this month which recommends that two Associate members be granted Full Member status by July 2013 “to provide confidence that the current ‘closed shop’ no longer exists.
Whether the ICC and its 10 current Full Members, who have the vast majority of the voting rights, take a blind bit of notice is doubtful, especially inside the 17-month time-frame, but Ireland are in pole position to keep the pressure on the top table. Now they just have to keep performing on the field.
And despite the loss of Niall O’Brien, who averages 68 for Ireland in first-class cricket, to the Bangladesh Premier League, Ireland still boast a formidable squad which should be more than capable of doing itself justice and making it three maximum points wins out of three in the Intercontinental Cup.
Ireland are sure to make four changes to the team that beat Canada in two days at Rathmines in their last game in September with the return of captain William Porterfield, Ed Joyce, Trent Johnston and Boyd Rankin to this weekend’s line-up. And, with both front-line spinners, George Dockrell and Albert Van der Merwe and wicket-keeper Gary Wilson certain to play, that means one of Paul Stirling, Alex Cusack, Andrew White, Kevin O’Brien and John Mooney will miss out. That’s an enviable position for National Coach Phil Simmons to be in.
“It’s a good position,” stresses the West Indian, “and that’s where we want to be. We must keep winning at this level and show we are top of the (Associates) tree.”
The comparison with England, the No 1 Test team, who came out of a UK winter and, with only two warm-up games, crashed to a 3-0 defeat in Dubai, is inevitable, but Simmons is not worried as Ireland embark on their winter schedule which will culminate with the World Twenty20 qualifiers in the UAE next month.
“We are experienced enough to do well,” insists the coach. “We have never had more than two or three days’ acclimatisation,” although he conveniently forgets to mention that Ireland’s only I-Cup defeat in the last seven years was in January 2010, three days after arriving in Sri Lanka.
That result effectively ended Ireland’s reign as I-Cup holders, but Kenya has been on a fast downhill in the last couple of years and have lost their only game in the current competition, at home to UAE, by 266 runs.
It should be a gentle opener for this confident, focused, Ireland squad.
Ireland squad: W Porterfield (capt), A Cusack, G Dockrell, T Johnston, E Joyce, J Mooney, R McCann, K O’Brien, B Rankin, M Sorensen, P Stirling, A van der Merwe, A White, G Wilson.
Match schedule (all games against Kenya): Feb 12-15 - I-Cup game; Feb 18 and 20: Two ODIs; Feb 22-24 – Three T20 games