World Cup 2015: Ireland
Birrell not underestimating Ireland
Ian Callender (Sunday Times)
IRELAND are on a hiding to nothing even before they face AB de Villiers and co in their third World Cup match against South Africa on Tuesday. The man preparing the dossier on the opposition for the Proteas is none other than former Ireland coach Adi Birrell.
It was Birrell, now Assistant Coach of South Africa, who took Ireland to the promised land when, three years after taking over as National Coach, he led them to the final of the 2005 ICC Trophy and qualification for the World Cup finals two years later. In Ireland’s second game, on a green pitch in Jamaica on St Patrick’s Day, they beat Pakistan and, as they say, the rest is history.
Eight years on, and for the first time since he left his adopted home – he stayed on for a further four years after quitting as coach following that World Cup tournament to ensure his children, now 16 and 10, got Irish passports – he will not be supporting Ireland in a major cricket match. But he is not surprised at far Ireland have come in such a relatively short space of time.
“The sustained success has been outstanding and Ireland is so professional on all levels now, including administration. I would have liked to work with (chief executive) Warren Deutrom I missed out big time, I only had three months with him. It became a different organisation with him in charge. It has moved remarkably fast and in the right direction. ”
It is a far cry from the his appointment in 2002 when he was given the keys of his car and realised that the boot would double up as a storeroom for the kit and his living room would be his office.
But Birrell’s coaching qualifications, which had made him the outstanding candidate for the post, quickly shone above the amateurism of the then Irish Cricket Union and, as he pointed out, his planning for the 2007 World Cup started long before the qualifying tournament.
“It was the 2004 European Championships where the seedings for the ICC Trophy would be decided so we took that tournament very seriously and got all best players available. We won it and got a favourable seeding for the qualifying tournament.
“So we were a step ahead of our competition at the time, which was Scotland and Holland, and as a result we didn’t have to play them in the 2005 tournament. In the end it was quite an easy ride in, with victory against Denmark taking us to the finals.
It was made easier by Ed Joyce scoring two centuries and averaging 99 in the tournament, but Ireland were not to get the benefit of their best batsman for another six years. The following year, Joyce transferred his allegiance to England, in an effort to play Test cricket, and he went with Birrell’s blessing.
“I’m not Irish, don’t forget, so I saw another picture which the Irish people perhaps didn’t see then. The best players needed to play at the highest level and Ireland didn’t have that vehicle to do that at that time.
So yes (Joyce declaring for England) was a good thing. It created ambition for the rest of the Irish players and he was a great example for what could happen and he blazed the trail for the others to follow. I’m not saying that’s the right path now, but William Porterfield, Niall O’Brien and Gary Wilson (plus Paul Stirling and Andrew Balbirnie, whom he worked with at Under-19 level) followed him into county cricket and they all have helped Ireland get where they are today.”
It also means that there will not be a scintilla of complacency when the South Africans take on Porterfield’s side in Canberra.
“We will not take any game easy. The Associates have shown they are here to compete so we will prepare as if we are playing in the final of the World Cup, I can assure you of that.
“Ireland’s performances over the last three World Cups are there for all to see. They have four of the top 10 chases, three over 300, and you’ve got to respect that, so I was not surprised by their win over West Indies,” said Birrell.
South Africa’s assistant coach admits that one player is on a different level to everyone else at the moment. Just 40 days after De Villiers smashed 144 from just 44 balls against West Indies in Johannesburg, he scored 162 from 66 balls against the same opposition on Friday on the biggest stage of all. And, according to Birrell, that was the difference.
“The 162 was the best because it came in a World Cup match. We were under pressure going into the match (after losing to India) but with AB making a clear statement that innings was the more impactful one.
But Birrell admits that until South Africa win a major trophy they will continue to be burdened by the C word, ‘Chokers’.
“We are not favourites but there are not a huge number of players who have been in World Cups before, who carry that baggage, and hopefully the players who are used to that system will be able to play with a little more freedom than they have done in the past. The India game was just a battle in the war. We lost that battle but we are still fighting the war so let’s see where that takes us.”
For at least two more days, though, Ireland hold the bragging rights. They are still unbeaten in the World Cup.
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