The Ireland cricket team, in spite of its continually outstanding performances at the Associate level, plays a ridiculously few number of internationals against top teams. Tours to Test nations have been even rarer. In a few days time however, Ireland are set to play the West Indies in two T20 internationals (on 19th and 21st February) and a sole ODI match (on 23rd February) in Kingston as their Caribbean sojourn comes to an end.
In the Nagico Super50, the Caribbean domestic ODI tournament, Ireland undoubtedly looked rusty and found it tough to adapt to vastly different conditions from what they are used to back home. Needing to win two of their three group matches to enter the semifinals, they bowed out after losing their first two games against Guyana and Jamaica rather tamely before pulling off a consolation win against the Windward Islands, the defending champions. Admittedly, Guyana and Jamaica both had established international names in their ranks, but Ireland’s performance in these two games – losses by 114 runs and 6 wickets (with 126 balls to spare) respectively – was certainly not an indication of the team’s calibre and spirit. They showed that they are much better during their 64-run win over the Windward Islands.
Following this average performance, the international leg of the tour is set to be a real challenge for the Irishmen. Even in the two practice T20s against a second-string Trinidad and Tobago side, they were below-par, winning one and losing one. The West Indies have named a full-strength squad for all the three games and are certain to prove formidable opponents for the visitors. Moreover, the West Indians are the reigning Twenty20 champions, and possess an enviable line-up suited to the shortest format of the game. Star batsman Chris Gayle, fast-bowling all-rounders Darren Sammy, Dwayne Bravo and Andre Russell, and wily spinners Sunil Narine and Nikita Miller are all impact players and Ireland will have to be their best if they are to score their maiden overseas victory over a full member in a bilateral engagement.
The batting was a disappointment in the Nagico50, as team totals of 187, 161 and 179 prove. The bowling was better, with the slower bowlers outshining the pace attack. While left-arm spinner George Dockrell was pretty ordinary except for the final game where he took 3/14, 20 year-old leggie Andrew McBrine has been the find of the tour so far. McBrine took only one wicket in three games, but maintained an economy rate of 3.6 throughout, holding his own while the rest of the attack leaked runs. His tight bowling can be a big asset to Ireland against the power-hitters like Gayle, Russell and Bravo. The batsmen meanwhile need to really pull up their socks – only one half-century was scored in the three domestic games – that being by Andrew Poynter against Guyana. The return of Ed Joyce will no doubt strengthen the line-up, but substantial scores are due from skipper William Porterfield, Paul Stirling and Kevin O’Brien to counter the West Indians.
Ireland have fond memories of visiting the West Indies. It was here during the World Cup back in 2007 that the seeds of Ireland’s surge to the top of the Associate table were sown under the able leadership of the recently-retired and much-missed Trent Johnston. All the three internationals will be played at the Sabina Park in Kingston, scene of Ireland’s famous win over Pakistan and tie over Zimbabwe seven years ago, results which enabled them to enter the Super 8 round and made a nation notice of its spirited cricket team. Another visit took place in 2010, when Ireland gave a tough fight to the West Indies in the single ODI played at Kingston – defending 213 from 45 overs, Ireland had the hosts at 56/3 before losing by 6 wickets and only 6 balls remaining. Also in 2010, Ireland took part in the third edition of the ICC World Twenty20 in the Caribbean, where they failed to go past the group stage.
With the ICC recently approving a few proposals regarding the structure of international cricket, Ireland’s performances become even all the more important if they are to press for Test status. The proposal from the ICC regarding Associates is not too encouraging – the winner of the next Intercontinental Cup has to defeat the lowest-ranked Test nation in order to gain Test status for four years – and this is something which is quite unfair on the Irishmen, for no other team has shown so much promise to become a Test nation and yet they are being asked to wait longer without any proper guarantee. At the same time, Ireland do have to be a lot more effective in the very few overseas matches they get.
Less than a year remains for the 2015 World Cup to be held in Australia and New Zealand. The road towards success in that tournament is extremely vital for Ireland. Compared to Test nations, Ireland get to play very few number of international matches, so they need to make the most of every such opportunity. Following the series in the West Indies, Ireland only have the World Twenty20 in Bangladesh in March and two home ODIs against Sri Lanka in May as international fixtures before the World Cup. This is hardly enough for a nation yearning to genuinely become the eleventh Test nation.
All said and done, the short series against the West Indies on their own turf will prove to be a tricky challenge for Ireland. In 2013 they came agonisingly close to beating Pakistan and England in home ODI’s. If they do manage to actually win in one of the games in the Caribbean, it will do a world of good for their quest towards Test status.
Ireland squad: William Porterfield (capt) (Warwickshire), Alex Cusack (Clontarf), George Dockrell (Somerset), Ed Joyce (Sussex)*, John Mooney (North County), Tim Murtagh (Middlesex), Andrew McBrine (Donemana), Kevin O’Brien (Railway Union), Niall O’Brien (Leicestershire), Andrew Poynter (Clontarf), Max Sorensen (The Hills), Paul Stirling (Middlesex), Stuart Thompson (Eglinton), Gary Wilson (Surrey), Craig Young (Bready)
West Indies ODI squad: Dwayne Bravo (capt), Darren Bravo, Miguel Cummins, Kirk Edwards, Chris Gayle, Jason Holder, Nikita Miller, Sunil Narine, Kieron Powell, Denesh Ramdin (wk), Marlon Samuels, Darren Sammy, Lendl Simmons.
West Indies T20 squad: Darren Sammy (capt), Samuel Badree, Dwayne Bravo, Andre Fletcher, Chris Gayle, Sunil Narine, Denesh Ramdin, Ravi Rampaul, Andre Russell, Marlon Samuels, Krishmar Santokie, Lendl Simmons, Dwayne Smith.
Ireland’s record vs West Indies in Internationals:-
in ODI’s – Lost by 8 wickets at Kingston, 2006-07; No result at Dublin, 2007; Lost by 6 wickets at Kingston, 2009-10; Lost by 44 runs at Mohali, 2010-11.
in T20I’s – Lost by 70 runs at Providence, 2010; No result at Colombo, 2012-13.