Bigger fish to fry but mess can't be ignored
Ian Callender (Belfast Telegraph)
IRELAND'S failure to reach the Super 10 stage of the World Twenty20 was hardly a surprise. After all, for the first time since 2010, they failed to win the qualifying tournament – on their own pitches – and with group favourites Bangladesh and their recent nemesis, the Netherlands, in the same first round stage, it was always going to be a difficult assignment.
But to lose their opening game to Oman, the one team in the finals ranked below them in the T20 rankings, was not in the grand scheme of things and it highlighted the depths to which Ireland have fallen in the shortest format of the game. In truth the squad never recovered from the shock.
Coach John Bracewell claimed other Associate nations, who Ireland would have eased past as recently as 2012, have “caught up” because they are solely focused on T20 cricket while Ireland’s main target is the Intercontinental Cup, the pathway to Test (match) status and, unlike their peers, they have one-day internationals against Full Members. For example, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, South Africa and world champions Australia are all opponents in the next six months in 50-over contests.
But that doesn’t fully explain the dramatic slide in Ireland performances in the last two months when they have been concentrating on the hurly burly of T20 cricket. Indeed, the first signs that something was drastically wrong came last July when in successive matches, Ireland lost to Papua New Guinea and Hong Kong and just to prove it was no fluke, PNG won the third match in the recent series in Australia.
Another defeat followed in Abu Dhabi, their first to the UAE since 2001, and when Zimbabwe won Ireland’s last warm-up game in Dharamsala, ahead of the World Twenty20, everyone knew Ireland would struggle in the tournament – bar the squad who continued to believe it would “be all right on the night”.
The return of Boyd Rankin and Tim Murtagh to the bowling attack and the form of Andy McBrine have been significant plus points but for too long they have been let down by the batsmen.
T20 cricket in 2016 is about power-hitting and improvisation and Ireland do not have enough batsmen in either category – and it is no coincidence that those players who fit the bill are out of form.
Paul Stirling and Kevin O’Brien are the two most obvious examples of the former but Stirling has not scored a half century in his last 11 innings in any format and it is exactly twice as many innings since O’Brien has hit a 50 in white ball cricket – 13 months ago.
Max Sorensen is accepted as the third best hitter of a ball in the side but he has never appeared higher than No 6 in any of his 40 T20 games and McBrine, whose three-ball cameo against Oman took his side past 150, is also left at No 7 behind the “untouchable” top six.
But outside captain William Porterfield, still Ireland’s most consistent batsman in the shortest format, there are places up for grabs. Gary Wilson top scored in successive games against Zimbabwe and Oman but his strike rate was below 100 until the over he was dismissed while Niall O’Brien, a certainty in the two longer forms, seems set to give up his place when Ireland next return to T20 action.
And, at the moment, there is no indication when that match will be with not one fixture scheduled but that is a story for another day. For now, Cricket Ireland are probably grateful that the next World Twenty20 is another four years away.