CRAIG READY TO LEAD IRELAND’S WORLD CUP ASSAULT
The decks have now been cleared and following a short, well earned break for the management and players last week, the Ireland cricket squad landed in Australia yesterday as World Cup work began in earnest.
Most of what has happened in the past 18 months has been building up to this and in what is likely to be a swansong at this level for at least one or two it is a crucial six weeks for Irish cricket.
The Boys in Green will have been buoyed by the news that they and Afghanistan have been given the nod to join the 10 Test playing nations on the ODI circuit ahead of the 2019 World Cup.
Given the tremendous amount of work put in by Cricket Ireland Chief Executive, Warren Deutrom, Chairman Ross McCollum and their team over the past number of years, this is a real shot in the arm for the sport here, and it will be an upbeat camp that begins their preparations this week.
There were a few raised eyebrows when the squad was announced for this tournament last month but there is little doubt that Coach Phil Simmons has been formulating his plans for some time.
The tournament will take on added significance in the North West given that Ireland skipper, former Killyclooney and Donemana player, William Porterfield, will be joined on the tour by Donemana’s Andy McBrine, Stuart Thompson of Eglinton and Bready’s Craig Young.
Their inclusion is testament to the brilliant work that has been going on in the region for the past few years with a record number of coaches now under the guidance of North West Warriors Head Coach, Bobby Rao.
The region has had to play catch-up with Leinster Cricket in particular, however the gap has been closing and the Warriors and resulting Academy have been a major factor in that. No player epitomises the hard work and dedication required to progress at the top level more than Young and having been at a career crossroads at the end of the 2013 season, the Bready bowler now goes into the competition as his country’s main strike option.
It is an accolade richly deserved too as the seamer has put an injury-plagued couple of years at Sussex behind him and goes into the World Cup with confidence at an all-time high. He broke into the International squad on the back of some excellent Interprovincial performances and hasn’t looked back since.
Young isn’t fazed in the slightest by the opportunity in front of him. At the back of his mind the 24-year old must be aware that a good showing in the Antipodes will thrust him right back into the County picture but it isn’t something that dominates his thoughts at present. Speaking to CricketEurope before leaving for the long trip he was quick to point out that he has learned from experience not to plan too far ahead.
“I was thoroughly enjoying my time at Sussex but then picked up a back injury that hampered my progress with the Academy in 2011. I tried a comeback but aggravated the injury and that ruled me out almost completely in 2012.
"Bobby Rao spoke to me several times after that and suggested that there were good opportunities playing club cricket back at Bready and continuing my rehabilitation through the Interprovincial route and thankfully it has worked out.
“I never doubted my ability but the fact that I’ve had a couple of injury-free seasons has allowed me to show the form I am capable of and I have been fortunate enough to be able to avail of the advanced coaching and prep work available here now.
"Playing with the Warriors afforded me the opportunity to make an impression and thankfully I have been able to work my way in to the Ireland squad on the back of that.
“That said, I’m not looking ahead any further than our next game. Of course there will always be the appetite to play County cricket but I’m really happy to be playing for Ireland. My contract runs until January so I won’t be thinking about anything other than giving my all during the World Cup.
"I have learned that there isn’t really much point in thinking too far ahead- that will take care of itself when the time is right”.
As for the tournament itself the player said that Ireland had set themselves just one goal and that was to qualify for the quarter finals.
“We’re taking on the cream of world cricket but we have enough belief to know that on our day, we are a match for anyone. We have beaten several of the top sides already and while it will be exceptionally difficult, we feel we can get a top four place in the group”.
Given the number of new faces in the squad, Young agreed that the experience of his team-mates would be vital.
“I think there are six of us with no experience in an ODI World Cup. That will mean that the likes of William Porterfield, Paul Stirling, John Mooney, Kevin and Niall O’Brien and Gary Wilson among others will have a vital role to play. These guys have been down this road before and that will be a massive boost when things get tight”.
Asked if he was looking forward to any particular game, the Warriors bowler immediately pointed to South Africa.
“It will be such an experience to come face to face with Dale Steyn. I have been to Australia four times already and was lucky enough to see the last Ashes series at close quarters. That was a really memorable experience but Dale Steyn sets the standard as the World’s best fast bowler for me. I’m not overly looking forward to seeing how quick he is from 22 yards but I’m really looking forward to watching him in competitive action”.
The group phase will be a start of mixed emotions for Coach Simmons as the Boys in Green open against his beloved West Indies on 16 February- a game pivotal to both teams’ chances of progress.
The fall-out from their shenanigans in India at the back-end of last year saw the Windies field an understrength team for their Test series in South Africa recently; however they’ve looked much better for the return of Chris Gayle et al since. A good win in the recent T20 series was followed up by another bit of a mauling from AB De Villiers and company in the ODI series as the Proteas warmed up in style.
The Caribbean outfit have treated Associate opposition lightly in the past but with so much at stake this time they will surely be at full strength for the opening joust. Gayle remains the key of course and if Ireland can get him early they will feel they have a decent chance of causing an upset.
After that it is an 8-day break during which our lads travel to Brisbane to tackle UAE. This is an absolutely vital game where anything less than a win could spell an early end to hopes of a quarter- final spot. After that it is South Africa in Canberra on 3 March where many people’s idea of the tournament winners will provide a very real gauge of where Ireland are at generally on the ODI circuit. A decent performance will add impetus to the drive for full recognition while a win should be celebrated with a National holiday.
Our defining group game could well come four days later when Ireland lock horns with Zimbabwe, a team continually in the sights when it comes to world rankings. Porterfield’s men have proven in the past that they are up to the challenge but the heat in Hobart will be the proof of the pudding. A win here, any win, will mean that the boys go into their final two matches- against India and Pakistan- with some sort of chance of pinching fourth place.
Progress would undoubtedly lead to a last eight shoot-out against one of the host nations but in real terms it would mean so much more.
A new era of ODI acceptance awaits, however the flip side of course is that it is this stage, more than any other, on which the protagonists really need to perform.
A magnificent Associate and Intercontinental Cup record will count for little if we go out of this with a whimper.
Thankfully that has rarely ever been the Irish way.