Australia ready for tough clash with Ireland
Robin Walsh (Sunday Life)
There was a time in the 1960s when Australia played Ireland in Belfast and fielded two wicket-keepers - and both of them took a turn at bowling. You could be excused for thinking the visitors did not take the game altogether seriously.
There will be no such tomfoolery next Saturday when the Australians take the field at Stormont for an officially ranked ICC One Day International. Such is the current stock of Irish cricket, the foremost exponents of the one-day game will take nothing for granted. And Ireland’s hopes of victory can no longer be dismissed contemptuously.
The chairman of Cricket Australia, Wally Edwards, sums it up thus : “The Irish team has earned the respect of the cricketing world at recent ICC events. We will in no way underestimate the task.”
Not since England came three years ago has a game been so anticipated in Belfast and not without good reason.
Two years ago the Australians left Dublin mighty relieved with a 39-run win when at one stage defeat seemed the more likely outcome. And come September the two countries will meet in the ICC World T20 in Sri Lanka: Saturday may be 50 overs but the significance will not be lost on either side.
Then there are the two line-ups to whet even the most voracious of appetites. Ireland will field a well-tried and trusted side, some of whom have been lighting up a dank county season; Australia with an intriguing combination of the seasoned and the younger breed, all under the new guard of skipper Michael Clarke and coach Mickey Arthur.
And within those squads are four of the biggest hitters in world cricket: for Ireland Paul Stirling, a recent century for Middlesex under his belt in a 40-over game, and Kevin O’Brien, the World Cup demolisher of England now on a T20 contract with Somerset; for Australia those big shots, David Warner and Shane Watson.
Ireland have named a 13-man squad and Australia will select from the 15 who will then journey to England for five ODIs.
It’s anyone’s guess which four the Australians will leave out given their battery of pacemen in Brett Lee, Mitchell Johnson, Ben Hilfenhaus, Clint McKay, James Pattison and Patrick Cummins not to talk of a batting line-up that includes Clarke, Watson, Warner, Steve Smith and David Hussey, waving the family flag following the withdrawal of brother Michael.
Arriving at the two Irish omissions is not an exact science, but less problematical.
The absence of the injured and potent fast bowler Boyd Rankin is a blow but compensation could well be found in a first cap for Middlesex’s lively swing talent Tim Murtagh, qualified for Ireland by dint of his grandparents. His 80 wickets helped his county to promotion last season and I would expect him to share the new ball with the redoubtable Trent Johnston.
Alex Cusack, Kevin O’Brien and John Mooney all have medium pace attached to their all-round skills and with spinners George Dockrell and Paul Stirling sharing the 50-over load, I expect Max Sorensen to take a back seat.
Andrew White could well be unlucky 13. It’s unlikey that coach Phil Simmons will want an eighth bowler and there’s little room in a batting order of considerable depth.
But nothing is certain as Simmons indicated almost a week ago when he announced the 13 names at a news conference in Belfast.
Yes, he was bringing back Northants’ Niall O’Brien, his sentence served for preferring a T20 tournament in Bangladesh to Ireland games in Kenya. But no, he will not keep wicket. The gloves will stay with Surrey’s Gary Wilson who played brilliantly when O’Brien was omitted from the T20 World qualifying tournament in the UAE shortly after Kenya.
But O’Brien’s presence will bolster an already formidable batting order, presumably coming in second wicket down after skipper William Porterfield and fellow opener Stirling - they who wreaked so much havoc in Dublin two years ago - and Ed Joyce, to be followed by the likes of brother Kevin, Cusack, Wilson, Mooney and Johnston. Even Murtagh and Dockrell have scored runs in the county game.
So the stands are being erected and it’s all eyes on the weather. Cricket Ireland have even that covered; if the rain does come, ticket money will be refunded if only 10 overs or fewer are completed.