Ring rusty Ireland hoping for further glory
Jon Coates (Irish Daily Mail)
IRELAND entered today’s World Twenty20 Qualifier having not played an international in the shortest format since the England washout in Guyana on May 4, 2010. No wonder they hanker for Test cricket.
It had been a long wait, but Gary Wilson had no concerns it would leave them ring rusty for the chaos of seven Twenty20 games in eight days when we spoke on Monday evening. His own innings against Namibia aside, Ireland still have a point to prove going into day two.
The globetrotting squad have been on the road since the first week of February, and doing nothing but train since their last of three T20 warm-ups against Kenya on February 24.
‘We’ve been away quite a long time now so we are probably the best prepared for a tournament we’ve ever been, and hopefully that will be reflected in our performances,’ said Wilson.
‘It has been all Twenty20 since the last one-dayer, which was about three weeks ago.
‘We are quite lucky to have seven or eight guys in the squad who have played Twenty20 games in England, so we shouldn’t be strangers to this format of the game.
‘I think the principles remain the same — you’ve still got to score off a limited amount of balls — and we should be experienced enough players now that when you change formats, it shouldn’t be too much of a problem.’
Only two places at the autumn finals in Sri Lanka are on offer to the 16 nations participating in Dubai, Sharjah and Abu Dhabi. Ireland must finish in the top three in Group B and only if they come top will they have the chance to skip a labyrinthine series of play-offs.
Ireland lost in the final of this tournament to Afghanistan two years ago but they have been consistently the best associate nation across all three formats since 2005.
But Wilson, who replaces the axed Niall O’Brien behind the stumps on top of his usual batting responsibilities, is wary of the peloton playing catch-up - a view vindicated yesterday by the Namibians, who haven't reached a major finals since 2003.
‘We appear to be in quite a strong group. Scotland seem to be on the up again with some good young players, Namibia look like a strong team and Kenya on their day can beat anyone,’ said Wilson on the eve of the opening game.
‘And then you’ve got the so-called lesser nations such as Oman, who can be dangerous. We played Oman in 2009 in a 50-over qualifier and we were surprised how hard they came at us.
‘I don’t think there will be any bad teams in this competition. Twenty20 cricket can go either way but I’m sure if we put our preparations into practice we will perform well.
‘The Italians have brought in two proven county players and one of them, Michael Di Venuto, is almost a proven international player. But I think we have plenty of quality ourselves and we should have them covered.’
O’Brien was omitted for the entire spring after asking for leave to play in the Bangladesh Premier League. But Surrey man Wilson is wary of promoting his chances of making the wicketkeeper’s spot his own.
‘I’m looking forward to it. Whenever Niall is around I tend to play as a batsman, so I’m looking forward to getting the gloves on again this week,’ said the 26-year-old from Down.
‘I am certainly confident in my ability. Whether or not they choose to bring Niall back in is completely up to the selectors. I would have been in the side anyway as a batsman, so I don’t feel under more pressure.