In spite of their consistent exploits on the world stage, the Irish cricket team continues to get a raw deal from shortsighted administrators who fail to see beyond their own interests.
Ireland may have been included in the ICC ODI table, but so far the move has proved to be an eyewash as there are simply no regular fixtures to allow them the scope of rising up the ladder.
In the limited opportunities that they have received, the world’s leading Associate nation has time and again proved they are as good as most Test nations when it comes to ODI cricket.
Their rise in recent years has been remarkable, especially when one considers the fact that it was only in 1993 that the national team – a combination of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland – was inducted as a member of the ICC.
The turning point came in 2005 when Ireland finished second behind Scotland in the ICC Trophy on home soil, thus securing ODI status for the first time. They also qualified for the 2007 World Cup where they announced their arrival as a team to reckon with. In the summer of 2006, they played their first ODI, against England at Belfast. Led by Trent Johnston, the hosts impressed in defeat as they went down by 38 runs.
Ireland’s next ODI fixtures were two months later in the 2006 European Cricket Championship Division One played in Scotland. This was the sixth time that they were participating in the biennial tournament, but the first time as an official ODI nation.
They had won the inaugural edition in Denmark in 1996. The 2006 edition’s Division One consisted of five teams of which three – Scotland, Ireland and Netherlands – had ODI status. Ireland began their campaign with a 99-run win over Denmark at Glasgow before travelling to Ayr the next day, 5th August, to face traditional rivals Scotland.
In the ICC Trophy final a year ago, the Scots had defeated the Irish by 47 runs and thus there was a healthy tussle between the two nations for the title of the best European Associate side. Scotland were the more experienced outfit and started as favourites for this clash, having given Pakistan a scare earlier in the season in their first ODI since 1999.
Both the sides were at full strength, the teams resembling almost the same as those they would field in the World Cup eight months later. However a notable absentee from the Irish eleven was star batsman Ed Joyce, who had been picked to play for England in Ireland’s inaugural ODI.
Joyce would go on to represent England in the 2007 World Cup. The evergreen Johnston captained Ireland while his opposite number was ODI debutant Craig Wright. Among the Scottish ranks was Dougie Brown, who was playing for his country of birth in an ODI for the first time, eight years after last turning out for England.
Scotland won the toss and elected to field. Brown marked his ODI return with an early scalp as he trapped Jeremy Bray leg before. Bray’s fellow opener William Porterfield, on ODI debut, too did not last long as he edged one off Paul Hoffman to the wicketkeeper Craig Smith.
The score was a worrying 19/2 when when Niall O’Brien, also on debut, came out to join Eoin Morgan, Ireland’s third debutant, in the middle. The two repaired the innings with a third-wicket partnership of 80 before O’Brien was dismissed by Wright for a vital 32.
Medium pacer Wright (3/32) bowled excellently in the middle overs as he soon followed O’Brien’s wicket with those of Andre Botha and Peter Gillespie in the space of three balls. Ireland slid back to 118/5, but the impressive Morgan held one end with maturity. However, slow left-armer Ross Lyons dismissed Johnston and Andrew White cheaply to reduce the score to 164/7.
All-rounder Kyle McCallan joined Morgan at the fall of the seventh wicket and the duo forged a game-changing alliance. McCallan’s counterattack was the perfect foil for Morgan’s flair as they put on a rapid 73 runs to swing the momentum towards their team.
Morgan looked well set for a debut hundred, but he was most unfortunate in getting run out for 99 in the final over when he failed to make his ground at the keeper’s end following a throw from Neil McCallum.
The Middlesex left-hander – who to Ireland’s frustration, was destined to play for England within the next three years – became the first and remains the only man to be dismissed one short of a century on ODI debut. He blurt out a few profanities due to his disappointment, for which he was later reprimanded by the match referee.
Morgan batted for more than three hours facing 134 balls and hit seven fours and a six in his innings, while McCallan remained unbeaten on a breezy 46 from 35 balls with five fours and a six to give much-needed impetus to the total, which was eventually boosted up to 240/8 in 50 overs.
Dave Langford-Smith gave an early setback to the Scottish chase by taking the first three wickets (source – reuters/eurosport.com)
In reply, Sydney-born pace bowler Dave Langford-Smith came up with a first-rate spell to put the Scots on the back foot. With the score on 20, he removed Neil McRae courtesy a catch from Trent Johnston.
Opener Navdeep Poonia, who was looking in good nick, was the next to perish as Langford-Smith disturbed his woodwork to make it 49/2. Three runs later, Johnston took another catch to get rid of Ryan Watson – scorer of 94 runs in the ICC Trophy final – and thus give Langford-Smith (3/32) his third victim.
From thereon, Scotland were always playing catch-up as no two batsmen were able to stitch a decent partnership. Brown had a scratchy stay before John Mooney’s medium pace induced an edge from him to O’Brien behind the wicket. At the other end, Botha struck McCallum on the pads to reduce the score to 84/5.
It was to become worse as McCallan (2/37) turned the screws with a double-strike within the space of three runs. The off-spinner first bowled Omer Hussain and later had Smith stumped to leave the hosts tottering at 91/7 with only the tail-enders remaining.
Hoffman, who came in at 119/8, launched a last-gasp onslaught as he cracked 31 off 14 balls including four sixes – the innings’ top score. White (2/31) captured the final two wickets, those of Wright and Hoffman (both caught by Bray), with his off-spin to condemn Scotland to 155 all out in 41.3 overs.
Morgan was named man of the match for his innings that guided the Irish to an ultimately defendable total. This convincing 85-run win against the tournament favourites set Ireland on the right track to win the title.
Their next ODI against Netherlands was rained off after being in a strong position, before which they had romped to an easy win over Denmark. By virtue of three wins and a no-result, Ireland won the tournament after ten years.
This win no doubt served as a morale booster in the lead-up to the 2007 World Cup where wins over Pakistan and Bangladesh resulted in a massive change in Ireland’s cricketing landscape.
Eight years later, the admirable levels of professionalism are there to see as the boys in green recently enjoyed their most productive World Cup campaign in the Antipodes, where they won three out of six matches and agonisingly fell short of a quarterfinal berth.