The Odran Flynn Column
Ireland World Cup profile
On the 16th of February Irelandís third successive 50 over World Cup campaign will get under way against West Indies in the New Zealand South Island city of Nelson.
It is a game that will go a long way to determining whether or not Ireland can make it through to the knockout stage of cricketís flagship event. Victory for the boys in green (well florescent lime green) would leave them in pole position to qualify for the quarter finals. While defeat would not eliminate the chances of progress it would mean that in addition to beating UAE and Zimbabwe, one of South Africa, India or Pakistan would have to be overcome.
However, given the impact that Ireland has made both in 2007 and 2011, it would not be a major surprise if their 15th March encounter with Pakistan in Adelaide concludes with the leading Associate heading for Sydney to play another match rather than boarding a flight for home.
Ireland after all has proven to the cricketing world that they are not just at World Cups to make up the numbers. In their only two appearances they have won four matches and tied another. All but one of the four victories was against a Full Member.
They have the fastest World Cup hundred (Kevin OíBrien Ė 50 balls), the third fastest (Paul Stirling-70 balls), the highest ever successful run chase (329-7 against England) and the third highest (307-4 against Netherlands). Kevin OíBrien and Alex Cusack hold the record for the highest sixth wicket stand (162 against England). In addition Ireland has the largest runs margin of victory by an Associate against a Full Member (74 runs against Bangladesh in 2007). Andre Botha has the third best ever economy rate in an innings (minimum 30 balls) with 2-5 off 8 overs against Pakistan in 2007. Of the 28 second innings hundreds in World Cup cricket, Ireland (Kevin OíBrien and Paul Stirling) account for two of them.
Irelandís exploits in 2011 was instrumental in forcing ICC to change their plans to restrict this World Cup to the ten Full Member nations.
In previews of Irelandís prospects on websites they are variously described as an aging side and as young and inexperienced. The reality is somewhat different as their average age is just 27.5 with seven of the squad aged 24 or under while the other eight are aged 29 and over. It says everything about the continuity and consistency of selection that there is not a single player in the squad aged between 25 and 28. As I pointed out in my column some months ago Ireland will be the only team in this World Cup with the same top six batsmen as in 2011. Indeed it now appears likely that the team that takes the field against the West Indies will only be missing Trent Johnston and Boyd Rankin from the iconic victory against England in Bangalore.
It is also a result of having the same coach for almost eight years. Since Phil Simmons took over from Adi Birrell in April 2007 he has overseen Ireland in 218 capped matches. This is an extraordinary 25.5% of all 856 capped matches that Ireland has played since their first in September 1855. During his eight years in charge the ten Full Member sides have worked their way through no less than 45 coaches between them which has invariably led to major changes to the structure of teams. While there has been the occasional dispute between Simmons and a player there can be little doubt that the long term association of coach and squad has contributed to the internationally recognised success of our cricket team.
There has also been a degree of concern about Irelandís ability to compete this time around particularly in regard to the strength of the bowling attack. It is true that the loss of Trent Johnston is a concern as much for his role as leader of the attack as for his wickets. In the last two World Cups he took 16 wickets at an economy rate of 5.31 and a strike rate of 35.1. Boyd Rankin has the second highest number of wickets with 15 but only 3 of those were taken in 2011 at an economy rate of 5.7 and a strike rate of 110. Obviously the wickets in Australasia will be much more conducive to pace that the sub-continental surfaces of 2011 and there is no question that Rankin would be in the squad if he had been available.
The loss of Tim Murtagh is certainly a blow as after an initially unconvincing start in Ireland colours his class eventually shone through and his spells against England in Malahide and Sri Lanka in Clontarf were two of the best by an Ireland bowler against Test nations. His accuracy and movement with the new ball especially in New Zealand may well have been crucial with both the West Indies and India looking vulnerable against the moving ball.
However all is not lost in the pace bowling department as Craig Young has made enormous strides in the past 15 months. The big Bready man is now injury free after his Sussex career was sundered by a series of mishaps. He has demonstrated that he is quick enough to cause batsmen concern but more importantly he can move the ball through the air and off the wicket. While he has yet to play an ODI against a Test side he has already proved that he can take wickets against every opposition that he has faced. Craig goes into this World Cup with the best strike rate (minimum 50 overs) of any bowler among the 14 competing nations. His 16 ODI wickets have come at the rate of one every 20.5 balls and in all of his 50 over games for Ireland including those uncapped matches in the acclimatisation tour he has 35 victims at a strike rate of 21.4.
Given the composition of the Ireland team in the recent tri-series in Dubai it appears that John Mooney will be the opening bowling partner of Craig Young. Now while Peter Chase is much quicker than Mooney it is unlikely than he will effectively make his ODI debut (he was listed to play against Scotland in the match that was abandoned without a ball bowled) in such a vital match. It should not be overlooked that Mooney was the leading wicket taker in 2011 when he snared 10 victims at an average of 25.9, economy rate of 5.75 and a strike rate of 27.
Kevin OíBrien and Alex Cusack will probably be the back- up seamers with George Dockrell and Paul Stirling providing the spin options. While OíBrien has seven World Cup wickets to his name Cusack failed to take a wicket in his 18 overs in 2011.
The key element in the bowling department will be the death overs. The last six overs can be decisive in determining the outcome. A perfect example of this was the Bangalore match when Ireland restricted England to 39 runs off the last six overs for the loss of five wickets. Another 30 runs would probably have left Ireland with too much to do. Cusack and Mooney have tended to be used most often at the death with varying degrees of success. Porterfield should consider holding Young back for a couple of late overs as he has looked as comfortable as anyone at the end and can bowl a decent yorker.
Clearly the prospect of success for Ireland will revolve around the batting line up getting competitive totals if they bat first or being able to chase down scores in the region of 300. With the same top six now augmented by the breakthrough of the talented Andrew Balbirnie there is every reason to hope that match winning totals can be achieved in at least half of the matches. I wouldnít be overly concerned at some below par performances in the tri-series and the experience of the top six, four of whom are in their third successive finals (albeit Joyceís first one was for England) will be vital when inevitably some of the matches go down to the wire.
However all of the other matches are winnable. It is impossible to predict how the West Indies will perform. It is easy to surmise that they are in disarray especially after their abandoned Indian tour and some of their abysmal displays in the recently concluded South Africa tour. They have an inexperienced captain in Jason Holder and the selectors have dispensed with the services of Dwayne Bravo and Kieron Pollard. Without question the biggest loss will be the absence of Sunil Narine who is not prepared to put his action under the spotlight at the highest level.
At the Cricket Ireland press conference to announce that Tourism Ireland was sponsoring Ireland at the World Cup I informed Phil Simmons that the ICC that morning had revealed that suspect actions would now be subject to a seven day assessment turnaround instead of the previous twenty-one days. I suggested to him that this would make it difficult for Narine to play against Ireland and not only did he agree but he was visibly delighted at the prospect. However West Indies still have an array of destructive batsmen who can put any attack to the sword. If any two of Gayle, Dwayne Smith, Samuels, Russell or Sammy come off then Ireland could concede a lot of runs very quickly.
While Holder may be captain the real heartbeat of the side resides within Darren Sammy. He is the one who shows real passion and drives the others on. If he can be neutralised a lot of the steam goes out of his team mates and their minds drift to their IPL prospects. West Indies has won four of the five ODIís against Ireland with the fifth a no result due to weather. Two of the victories were in the 2007 and 2011 World Cup.
India have had a nightmare few weeks in Australia and have many players either not 100% fit or out of form. Star batsman Virat Kolhi seems less assured without the captaincy and can be wound up to the point where he loses concentration and occasionally his wicket. There are no real terrors in their bowling attack although their seamers will appreciate the match being in Hamilton. Of course India will be clear favourites to beat Ireland but they lack the aura of South Africa and they could be as vulnerable as they were in 2007 when defeat to Bangladesh sent them home early. India has won both ODIís against Ireland including their match at the 2011 World Cup.
Pakistan deserves great credit in that of all of the Full Members they have been the one most amenable to playing Ireland. Apart from the historic match in 2007 there have been several other close matches. In May 2013 Ireland could and probably should have won both matches but let the chance slip through their fingers, literally in the second match. In Misbah, Younis Khan and Afridi there is a mountain of experience but the loss of Saeed Ajmal and Junaid Khan severely limits their bowling attack. By the time that they meet Ireland in Adelaide in the final match in the group Pakistan will know what they need to do and that may well influence their attitude to the game. Hopefully it will be the disinterested Pakistan that shows up on that day. Pakistan has played five ODIís against Ireland winning three, losing one with the fifth ending in a tie.
Zimbabwe is trying to rebuild under new coach Dav Whatmore, who has a decent coaching record. Whether he can instil enough confidence into his charges in the time available to him is the key question. They barely scraped a 2-2 tied home series against Afghanistan in their final warm up games and should hold no fears for Ireland. If Ireland plays to their full potential they are a better team than the Africans and if the deciding factor is spirit and desire then there will only be one winner. Zimbabwe has met Ireland in 5 ODIís winning three, losing one with their only meeting in the World Cup ending in a tie in 2007.
It is tempting to believe that UAE will be cannon fodder for Ireland but that could be a costly mistake if the Ireland team takes that attitude into their game in Brisbane. Yes Ireland will be favourites over the team with the highest average age in the tournament and the two oldest players in skipper Mohammad Tauqir and his deputy Khurram Khan who will both be 44 in June. However it is only a few weeks ago that UAE comfortably beat a full strength Afghanistan 3-1 and were only a few balls away from a whitewash. With nine of their squad the wrong side of thirty the vast expanses of the Gabba should put their fielding under pressure and that in the end could mean the extra thirty or forty runs that will be the difference between a close encounter and a comfortable win. Ireland has never met UAE in an ODI as UAE only regained that status last year. Ireland has won all four List A matches since they got ODI status in 2006.
William Porterfield. Age 30. LHB.
His ODI record is 2,137 runs at an average of 31 and strike rate of 67. His 6 hundreds are the most for Ireland and he has also scored 10 fifties. His most memorable innings was the 112 he made against England in Malahide in 2013.
He has played 38 ODIís against Full Members in which he has 828 runs at an average of 21.8 with 2 centuries and 2 fifties.
He is currently in second place in ODI runs aggregate, 41 runs behind Kevin OíBrienís 2,178.
Andrew Balbirnie. Age 24. RHB. OB.
He originally made his ODI debut in 2010 when he was nineteen but made little impression in his four World Cricket League matches and had to wait four years for his next chance.
Alex Cusack. Age 34. RHB. RM.
George Dockrell. Age 22. RHB. SLA.
However after a sustained run of matches during the acclimatisation tour and in Dubai in November his form has returned and he looked back to his best in the ODIís last month when his 4-35 against Afghanistan equalled his best ever figures.
Ed Joyce. Age 36. LHB.
John Mooney. Age 33. LHB. RMF.
Against Full Members his 20 matches have brought 334 runs at 20.9 with a top score of 55 against Zimbabwe. Interestingly with the ball he has 18 wickets at 27, economy of 5.7 and strike rate of 28.3 figures that are better than against other Associates.
Kevin OíBrien. Age 30. RHB. RM.
In his 38 matches against Full Members he has a record aggregate of 928 runs at 28.1. In addition to his century he also has passed 50 on three other occasions. For good measure he has 26 wickets at 33.4, with an economy of 5.5 and strike rate of 36.4.
No team will feel safe until Kevin is back in the pavilion and quite apart from his seminal innings in 2011 it should not be forgotten that he calmly helped steer Ireland home against Pakistan in 2007. His canny variety of seamers and slower balls has broken many partnerships but it is also important to recognise when the batsmen have lined him up and he needs to be out of the attack.
Kevin will be determined to deliver another game changing performance over the next month and no one should be foolish enough to bet against that happening.
Niall OíBrien. Age 33. LHB. WK.
While Niall may not be able to contribute with the gloves he will make up for it with the bat. In the previous two World Cups he has the highest aggregate of runs, his 421 runs being 53 ahead of his brother. He scored those runs at an average of 30.1and at a strike rate of 65.3. Among his 3 fifties was one of the most crucial innings in Irelandís history: his 72 against Pakistan at Sabina Park in 2007 was largely responsible for thrusting a small island on the Atlantic shores of Europe to world prominence. Niallís efforts that day have brought about changes that have arguably caused more ripples in the cosy ICC club than anything else in the past ten years. Keep on chirping Niall.
Overall in his 64 ODIís his 1,649 runs place him 4th in the Irelandís leading scorers. He has compiled those runs at an average of 29.5 with a strike rate of 67.4 and his 12 fifties are the most by any Ireland batsman in ODIís who have not gone on to a hundred. The highest of these is the match winning 80 not out he notched up against Scotland last month. Indeed his form over the past twelve months suggests that he is batting as well as at any time in his career.
His ODI record is 12 wickets at 22.6 with an economy rate of 4.5 and a strike rate of 30.2. He is no mug with the bat as he has 97 runs at 24.3.
Paul Stirling. Age 24. RHB. OB.
His 51 ODIís have yielded 1726 runs to place him third in the all-time list. His average is 35.2 and he has a strike rate of 95.1. No wonder he has been compared at times to Virender Sehwag. He also has 5 hundreds and 6 fifties the highest of which is a 134 ball 177 against Canada which is Irelandís highest individual score in ODIís.
In addition he has 27 wickets at an economy rate of 4.4 with his nagging accurate off spin.
Having made a breakthrough for Middlesex in first class cricket Paul is now more selective in his stroke play and should he survive fifteen overs in any innings he could do serious damage to any attack.
Stuart Thompson. Age 23. LHB. RMF.
He has scored 130 runs at 32.5 with a strike rate of 90.3 and a highest score of 39. He also has 6 wickets at an average of 14.5 and an economy rate of 3.6 while his strike rate is 24.5.
Will probably be the backup all-rounder should Mooney or Cusack be unavailable.
Gary Wilson. Age 29. RHB. WK.
Against Full Members his 22 matches have brought him 425 runs at 21.3 with 4 fifties and a highest score of 69 against Zimbabwe.
However his standout innings was his 62 ball 61 versus the West Indies in the 2011 World Cup when Ireland looked like they might win before Gary was controversially and erroneously dismissed after a DRS review. Those runs accounted for exactly half of his 2011 aggregate with an average of 30.5 and strike rate of 84.1.
Craig Young. Age 24. RHB. RFM.
The side is coached by Phil Simmons who apart from leading Ireland in 2011 played in 13 World Cup matches for the West Indies. He scored 336 runs at 30.5 and a strike rate of 74.7. He had one century, 110 vs Sri Lanka in 1992, as well as 2 fifties.
He also took 8 wickets at 28.4 with an economy rate of 3.8 and a strike rate of 44.2.
This will be Roy Torrens final tournament as manager marking the end of an Ireland career that first saw him wearing the green shirt in 1966. As he will tell you himself in that time he has seen everything from the mundane to the mesmerising (good and bad) and in recent years the memorable.
The influence he has had on the extraordinary last eight years of success should never be underestimated. It will take some adjusting to not seeing the big man wandering around a cricket ground in his Ireland tracksuit. However I suspect that various cricket pavilion bars should not cancel their supplies of Famous Grouse just yet.
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