It wasn’t so long ago that defeats to seemingly inferior opposition - countries such as Denmark, Canada and Scotland - were often regular but unsurprising results on the associate nation circuit for Ireland. And while the achievements at the 2007 World Cup indicated at Ireland’s flourishing emergence as the kingpin of the non-Test playing ranks, the dominance that has driven the case for full-member status has only been a recent success.
However, such has been their recent superiority that Phil Simmons’ side will embark on yet another ICC qualifying campaign installed as firm favourites and near-certainties to reach their fourth consecutive Twenty20 World Cup despite the progressively competitive nature of the opposition.
The gap between the full members of the cricketing hierarchy and their second-tier counterparts is steadily dwindling and this month’s qualifying event in the UAE - the biggest of the associate nation calendar - will further underline the global expansion, development and increase in standards of the game.
While the ICC's High Performance Programme for the top six associates seeks to bridge that gap, the benchmark set by Ireland has ultimately been responsible for the advancements in the non-Test playing ranks.
William Porterfield’s side’s pursuit of an unprecedented calendar year treble will come to fruition during a busy Winter schedule which begins in earnest on Friday and they begin the tournament with no fewer than eight of the same squad that lined out four years ago in Ireland’s first Twenty20 World Cup in England. In an age of squad rotation, a plethora of impulsive call-ups and ruthless axing, Phil Simmons’ reign has been defined by persistent and loyal man-management.
Consistency and stability in team selection has been an unmistakable characteristic of his seven-year tenure to date and has been fundamental to the 50-year-old’s success. Eminence in limited-overs cricket, in particular, is driven by a reliable and consistent method in which all the players are confident and familiar with.
Continuity of selection and commitment to the cause is an essential element and while competition for places is healthy, constant changes in personnel and indecision only disrupts the make-up and fabric of the side.
However, the development and unification of a golden generation has enabled the former West Indian all-rounder to construct a side brimming with quality, many of whom can legitimately stand side-by-side with the elite and not feel out-of-place.
Although Twenty20 has revolutionized and gripped the sport globally, matches on the Associate/Affiliate nation calendar are few and far between - Ireland have played just one game in the shortest format since their appearance at the World Cup fourteen months ago.
The universally adopted approach of going hell-for-leather from the outset is generally a rewarding tactic with a productive and positive start essential in this format. Although this formula is impossible to neglect, Ireland combine both brawn and bludgeoning blows with application and accumulation in their approach to batting.
The left and right-hand opening partnership of captain William Porterfield and Paul Stirling is a microcosm of the method - the latter is given the freedom to play his natural game and clear the boundaries with regular ease while Porterfield’s ability to caress the ball into the gaps is equally effective.
This trend is continued down the order with Ed Joyce and Gary Wilson’s tendency to occupy the crease and score at a healthy rate compliments the all-action style of the O’Brien brothers during the pivotal middle-over period. Kevin’s aggression and the experience of the seven county-based players will be crucial on the slow and often low pitches in the UAE.
As for the bowling, many feel that the attack can lack penetration and potency against the higher ranked countries but that’s certainly not the case in the Associate arena. Alex Cusack’s timely return from injury gives the side more balance with the Clontarf all-rounder capable of adding quick runs at the back-end of the innings along with John Mooney and Trent Johnston if required.
There is a possibility that Simmons may alter the personnel slightly should conditions demand. Although Stirling’s off-spin can provide support to George Dockrell, the inclusion of Andy McBrine in the 15-man squad may hint at a role for him at the expense of one of the medium-paced all-rounders.
Both captain and coach know nothing less than qualification will do and with the additional obstacle of the pre-tournament round-robin in March, there is a greater onus on defending the trophy they lifted twelve months ago.
Having won twenty-two consecutive games against Associate nation opposition, a favourable draw and a full-strength and firing armory at their disposal, one can only assume Ireland’s dominance will continue over the next few weeks.
After all, success in Twenty20 originates from a regular and reliable method of which all players are accustomed and confident in.