Even though T20 is a fickle format and much dependent on luck, the forthcoming T20 World Cup in Bangladesh is as important a tournament as any for the six Associates who will have to undergo qualifying in order to reach the main round.
For Ireland, this tournament assumes even more importance as they aim to attain more international fixtures against top opposition. The Irish get to play very few games against Test sides and provided they top a group also including Zimbabwe, the UAE and the Netherlands; they have a chance to take on Sri Lanka, South Africa, England and New Zealand in the tournament proper.
Till date Ireland have played 34 T20 internationals since 2008, winning 18 and losing 13. As Ireland’s opening game against Zimbabawe on St. Patrick’s Day draws near, let us look at five of Ireland’s best Twenty20 wins, in chronological order: –
1) Beat Bangladesh by 6 wickets, Nottingham 2009
After missing out on the inaugural edition in 2007, Ireland qualified for the second T20 World Cup in England in 2009. Clubbed with India and Bangladesh in the group stage, Ireland’s only chance to progress to the Super 8 was by beating the latter.
In a do-or-die clash at Trent Bridge, Ireland scored a six-wicket win in their very first T20I against a full member. William Porterfield put in Bangladesh and the Irish took wickets at regular intervals and never really allowed the Tigers to consolidate. The score was 66/5 in the eleventh over and then 94/7 in the 17th, before Mashrafe Mortaza (33*) clouted a few to take the total up to 137/8. Former captain Trent Johnston starred by ejecting the first three wickets for only 20 runs.
Ireland lost Jeremy Bray with only six runs on the board, but Porterfield and Niall O’Brien combined for a breezy 55-run second wicket stand. O’Brien made a vital 40 off 25 balls (3×4, 3×6). Bangladesh fought back to reduce Ireland to 89/4 in 14.3 overs, the match hanging in balance.
However, out came Kevin O’Brien at that stage and clubbed 39 from just 15 balls (4×4, 2×6) to stun the Bangladeshis. He put on an unbroken 49 with John Mooney in only four overs and struck the winning boundary off Rubel Hossain to help Ireland reach 138/4 in 18.2 overs and thus seal a spot in the next round. Niall O’Brien was named man of the match.
2) Beat Kenya by 10 wickets, Dubai 2011-12
Ireland recovered from their upset opening defeat to Namibia in the 2012 World T20 Qualifiers in ruthless fashion, thumping Kenya by ten wickets at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium. Boyd Rankin (3/20) reduced Kenya to 13/3 in the third over itself, which later became 39/6. Except for Tanmay Mishra (28), no one managed double fugures as Kenya were shot out for 71 in 19 overs, the last four wickets falling for just seven runs. Alex Cusack, John Mooney and George Dockrell all chipped in with two wickets each.
Captain William Porterfield was in blazing form in reply, as he blasted an unbeaten 56 from only 27 balls (8×4, 2×6). He added an unbroken 72 in just 7.2 overs with fellow opener Paul Stirling to inflict a massive defeat on the African nation. Ireland won all their following games and went on to win the tournament by beating fellow qualifiers Afghanistan in the final. In terms of balls remaining (76), this is the biggest margin of victory in all T20 internationals.
3) Beat Afghanistan by 5 wickets, Dubai 2011-12
Ireland, who had lost the 2010 Qualifiers final to Afghanistan, beat the same opponents two years later at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium to win the title. Batting first, Afghanistan’s total of 152/7 was built around wicketkeeper Mohammed Shahzad’s 77 off 57 balls (7×4, 2×6) from number three. No one else crossed 17. He was the seventh wicket to fall in the 19th over, rescuing his side from 27/2. Max Sorensen and Kevin O’Brien bagged two wickets apiece, with the latter going for just 4.5 runs an over.
Dawlat Zadran castled captain William Porterfield off the very first ball of the chase. But at the other end, Paul Stirling was in brutal form. He smashed 79 off 38 balls (9×4, 3×6) and added 80 for the third wicket with Gary Wilson (32). Zadran (3/21) came back to dismiss Stirling and K. O’Brien in successive balls, but Wilson and Andrew Poynter averted further hiccups. Ireland reached 156/5, winning with seven balls to spare.
4) Beat Afghanistan by 68 runs, Abu Dhabi 2013-14
Ireland were unbeaten throughout the 2014 World T20 Qualifiers and reserved their blistering best for the final against familar foes Afghanistan. William Porterfield called correctly at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium and his team never looked back. Along with Paul Stirling, he shared a rollicking opening stand of 68 in just 5.3 overs to set the tone.
Stirling, who smashed 76 in 43 balls (8×4, 4×6) then added a further 64 in 5.2 overs for the fourth wicket with the evergreen Trent Johnston, who was playing his last international for Ireland. ‘TJ’ helped himself to a cracking 32-ball 62 (5×4, 4×6) as the final total ballooned to a mammoth 225/7 – easily Ireland’s highest and the fourth-highest in all T20Is. Hamza Hotak (3/39) was the pick of the Afghan bowlers.
Afghanistan too seemed to be hitting out from ball one itself, but regular wickets dented their chase. They reached 76 in just seven overs, but for the loss of four wickets. Johnston made his swansong even sweeter, claiming 3/34 to hasten Afghanistan’s end.
Tim Murtagh, Alex Cusack and George Dockrell took wickets each as Afghanistan folded for 157 in 18.5 overs. The top-scorer was Gulbadin Naib with 43 in 19 balls (3×4, 4×6). Not suprisingly, Johnston was named man of the match. It was a commendable feat for Ireland to remain unbeaten throughout the entire tournament.
5) Beat West Indies by 6 wickets, Kingston 2013-14
This has to be Ireland’s best T20 win till date, since it came against a top team – in fact the defending World T20 champions – in their own backyard of Sabina Park, which was incidentally the scene of Ireland’s famous ODI win over Pakistan in the 2007 World Cup.
After the West Indies elected to bat, none of the batsmen were able to stay on the crease for long enough to lay a solid base. Alex Cusack (2/17), Kevin O’Brien (2/17) and Tim Murtagh (2/28) all played a role as no batsmen crossed even 20, Chris Gayle’s 18 being the highest. The eventual total was 116/8, which could have been tricky to chase on the dead track.
Ireland knew they were not going to have it easy when openers William Porterfield and Paul Stirling were both dismissed early to make the score 8/2 in the second over, which later became 37/3. But the reliable Ed Joyce, batting at number three, was looking confident and he found a willing ally in Andrew Poynter (32 off 30, 6×4). The two added a game-changing 58 in 9.1 overs for the fourth wicket to soothe Irish nerves. When Poynter got out, the required equation was a comfortable 23 off 25 balls.
Joyce, later named man of the match, remained unbeaten on 40 (49 balls, 2×4) while Kevin O’Brien scored the winning couple of runs off Ravi Rampaul to help Ireland reach 117/4 in 19.1 overs. This was the first of a two-match series, and the hosts made things even with an 11-run win in the second game.