Today we welcome new writer Dan Humphreys to TFT. He assesses Ireland’s recent performances and what the future might hold across the Irish Sea.
The bizarre nature of following Irish cricket is a genuine inability to tell what they will do next. Despite a promising opening display in the T20 World Cup, confidently brushing aside the Dutch, they went on to be comprehensively beaten by Sri Lanka. The tournament came to a head when they were unceremoniously dumped out by Namibia.
I watched the Namibia game and was disheartened because while Ireland have achieved relative success in recent years, I would imagine most global cricket fans would view us as a nation which has not been able to push on from Kevin O’Brien’s heroics against the old enemy in 2011. That’s the nature of the beast, however, as a smaller nation who don’t consistently battle with the top teams, you are judged on your performances in major tournaments. By that yard stick, Ireland have regressed since that famous night in Bangalore. Failure to get past the group stage in the 2012 T20 World Cup and since have failed to even be at the top table, unable to get out of the preliminary stages of each subsequent edition.
The disappointment, however, of the 50 over World Cup results is probably harder to stomach for Irish fans. In 2015, despite a promising victory over the West Indies, we narrowly missed out on the knockout stages. This result, while disappointing, was completely palatable for lovers of Irish cricket. Simply competing on the biggest stage is what all of us want. The devastating outcome was the failure to qualify for the new 10-team version of the tournament in 2019. The prospect of playing in a Cricket World Cup right next door was incredibly exciting and the disappointment was palpable. This most recent result in qualifying for the T20 World Cup in Australia is extremely positive. While the qualifying tournament was not without its speed bumps, the result in this case was the important detail.
Ireland now have a rare opportunity to the right the wrongs of the previous tournament, only a year on. The results in this Irish summer have been symptomatic of a team who are on the cusp of finding a way of consistently getting results. The second T20 of the summer saw Ireland fall only 4 runs short of chasing 225 against a strong India team. The ODI series at home against New Zealand was also well within Ireland’s grasp. An innings by Michael Bracewell of unbelievable quality which culminated in 24 being taken off the final over with New Zealand nine down. This was the most runs scored in the final over of an ODI to win the game. The third game in that series was similarly heartbreaking for Irish supporters. New Zealand posted 360/6 from their 50 overs, a total that I and I’m sure many others believed at the time was well beyond Ireland’s reach. However, sparkling centuries from Paul Stirling and Harry Tector brought Ireland within touching distance of a record chase in One Day Internationals. Ireland fell just two runs short of a famous victory.
Despite Ireland putting in some high quality performances this summer, they were zero wins from ten games this summer going in to the most recent Afghanistan T20 series. Performances and good efforts can only get you so far in the eyes of the public. In the end people want to see their country deliver results. That’s exactly what we got against a quality Afghanistan outfit. Coming down to the final game of the series in which Ireland stormed home through George Dockrell in a seven over a side thriller in Belfast.
While their results in recent times have been somewhat disheartening, any cricket fan can see that Ireland are now producing young players that can produce quality performances at the top level. Josh Little’s production with the ball has seen him gain a contract with Manchester Originals for the rest of the Hundred, picking up the wickets of Faf Du Plessis and David Wiley in his first game. Mark Adair’s red ball skills have been impressive but he’s also provided a genuine swing bowler for Ireland with the new ball in the white ball forms. Ireland’s fast bowling stocks are on the rise but the story of Ireland’s summer has been the coming of age of Harry Tector and the return of George Dockrell.
Tector’s hundreds this summer were the innings of a top international batter. His maturity at the top level is something not seen in Ireland since Eoin Morgan’s meteoric rise. His vital contributions with the bat already seem to have guaranteed that he will one day be Ireland’s captain. Dockrell’s return as a lower order batter is a fascinating one. He has been a revelation with the bat this summer but the part about Dockrell’s return that is most engaging is that he appears to be a man who has found his love for the game again. He was earmarked as Ireland’s next great spin bowler and when this didn’t pan out it was I’m sure an extremely difficult cross to bare. Despite getting back in to the team largely on his batting, he has bowled important overs and will likely play the all rounder role in Australia this winter. The continued success of Ireland’s finest batsman, Paul Stirling and the quality displayed by Lorcan Tucker with both the gloves and the bat are also encouraging signs ahead of the winter.
Following Irish cricket can be baffling, bordering on distressing. However, with the ICC future tours program outlining a much busier schedule for Irish cricket in the coming years, the belief must be that if Ireland can consistently play against the best sides in the world (and consistently is the key word here), then the quality of cricket and therefore the results can only trend in one direction.