Ireland gunning for at least one sizeable scalp

Everyone loves an underdog, especially one dressed in green. From Italia ’90 in football to West Indies 2007 in cricket, Ireland have long been the neutral’s favourite World Cup team, and four years on from their extraordinary Caribbean campaign, they are back in the mix and hungry to prove their credentials once again.

Everyone loves an underdog – except, that is, the sport’s administrators. The magnificence of Ireland’s performance in Jamaica four years ago came at a price. By dumping Pakistan out of the competition with a gripping three-wicket victory in their group-stage encounter at Sabina Park, they eliminated one of the tournament’s major drawcards, just as Bangladesh were accounting for India over in Trinidad.

The upshot of that remarkable day – St Patrick’s Day, no less – has been a rehashed competition, with more group stage games designed to safeguard against a repeat of Ireland’s heroics, a fact conceded by the tournament director, Prof Ratnakar Shetty. And if that seems harsh, then worse is to follow in 2015, when the format is set to eliminate all non-Test playing nations, even those like Ireland with some pedigree at this level.

It means, therefore, that for Ireland, this time, it’s personal. They have six matches in Group B in which to make as big a splash as possible, and prove that the administrators have got their priorities badly wrong. The core of the contenders from 2007 are back for another go, and while the injured Eoin Morgan has long since thrown in his lot with England, their batting has been bolstered by the return of Ed Joyce.

Ahead of the tournament four years ago, Ireland’s tally of official ODIs was a measly eight – seven of which had come against fellow minnows. Now they are relative veterans, with 58 official contests under their belts, and a wealth of reasons to give it their best shot. It is asking too much to expect a repeat of the Kingston miracle, but with six opportunities to make their presence known, they’ll be gunning for at least one sizeable scalp.

World Cup pedigree

Just the one tournament, but what a tournament. Ireland showed their mettle with an agonisingly close-fought tie against Zimbabwe, then held their nerve in a fraught finale to eliminate Pakistan in that unforgettable three-wicket triumph. The Super Eights were a let-down on many fronts, as their lack of experience took its toll, but they at least managed to win their mini-World Cup, by downing Bangladesh in their penultimate appearance, at Bridgetown.

Form guide

A little patchy in recent months. A shared series in Canada was followed by a 2-1 defeat in Zimbabwe, and their warm-ups on the subcontinent haven’t gone entirely to plan either, with consecutive losses to Zimbabwe and Kenya in Dubai. They may be saving their best for when it matters, but they’ll need to raise their game soon.

Where they’re likely to finish

Progression to the quarter-finals would be a miracle given the format, but they’ve got a few teams in their group that they are sure to target – England, West Indies and Bangladesh, to name but three.

Watchability

More doughty than flamboyant, Ireland at their best are a team with tenacity who refuse to accept when they are beaten. Their bowling attack relies on diligence above all else, with Trent Johnston setting the example and Boyd Rankin providing the height and a touch of class.

Key players

George Dockrell is just 18 years old, but already he’s a player with an immense future ahead of him. In the World Twenty20 back in May, he blended nous with audacity as his flighted twirlers saw off Netherlands in the qualifying tournament, before taking 3 for 16 against West Indies and choking England’s middle-order with four overs for 19 in the main event. His school exams ruled him out of an ODI against Australia, but a two-year deal with Somerset was ample consolation. Another mature performance, and it might even be England who come sniffing next …

Ed Joyce has made more trips across the Irish Sea than your average RyanAir flight. Born in Dublin, he set about qualifying for England during his county stint with Middlesex, before eventually making his debut in June 2006 – against Ireland in Belfast, no less. Soon afterwards, he travelled to the 2007 World Cup on the back of an ODI century against Australia, but having been jettisoned by England in the wake of that disastrous tournament, he decided to requalify for his native land. At the age of 32, he is arguably in his prime, and his experience will be invaluable.


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