World Cup 2007 March 21, 2007

Fuelled by team spirit

Over the course of an unforgettable St Patrick's Day, what we saw was a team where every individual appeared to raise his game

Dileep Premachandran

The son of James Joyce was instrumental in Ireland qualifying for this World Cup, with two centuries and two fifties in the 2005 ICC Trophy. And before the more literary among you get apoplectic, yes we do know that the man who wrote Ulysses and Finnegan's Wake passed away in January 1941. But by a happy quirk of fate, Edmund Christopher Joyce, Ed to his Irish and English team-mates, was also born to a James, and his 399 runs from five games were the focal point of a campaign in which the next highest scorer for Ireland was Trent Johnston with 183.

Joyce's heroics were proof that Ireland weren't just a team of journeyman pros imported from countries like Australia and South Africa. While the likes of Johnston, opener Jeremy Bray and South African allrounder Andrè Botha have all contributed to Irish cricket's dramatic rise through the associate ranks, Adrian Birrell, the coach, is keen to emphasise that 11 of the 15-man squad were born and bred in Ireland. "Ed was our best player," he says. "And he now opens for England. So we don't just import talent, we're also exporting it (smiles)."

Under Birrell, who spent 16 years with Eastern Province in South Africa, the different elements have combined together quite beautifully. "When I took over, we were probably ranked 18th or 20th in the world," he says. "Now, we're arguably the strongest associate [nation]. And along the way, we've picked up some major scalps."

Victories over Zimbabwe in 2003 and a Surrey team with eight internationals in 2004 were followed by a defeat of West Indies (2005), their opponents in the final Group D game on Friday. And the disappointment of losing to Scotland in that 2005 ICC Trophy final was offset to some extent by their triumph in the Intercontinental Trophy, a competition in which they have reached the final again this year.

And it's not only the national side that's doing well. At the European Championships in 2006, Ireland were champions at all six age groups from Under-13 to seniors, and according to Birrell, "some of the young boys waiting in the wings are exceptionally good."

Irish cricket has history too. The old-timers still wax eloquent about Dougie Goodwin (5-6) and Alec O'Riordan (4-18), who routed a West Indian team for 25 on a damp pitch at the Sion Mills Ground, south of Londonderry. Over the years, the feat has lent itself to urban legend and the name of Sir Garfield Sobers crops up, but though he was captain on that ill-fated tour in 1969, injury prevented him from crossing the Irish Sea. It was Basil Butcher that led a side which could also boast of a young Clive Lloyd and the 43-year-old Clyde Walcott.

Ed Joyce was instrumental in Ireland qualifying for this World Cup before England imported him © International Cricket Council

With that history of giant-killings in Irish cricket's past, Pakistan would have been wary last Saturday. But again, the conditions were to play a vital part in bridging the gulf in ability between the two sides. Though the pitch wasn't Sion Mills-damp, there was enough life in it to encourage the seam bowlers. And while both Dave Langford-Smith and the strapping Boyd Rankin were erratic, they produced the odd unplayable delivery.

Botha, with his experience of South African domestic cricket, did even better, exhibiting the mastery over line and length that was such a feature of South Africa's bowling in the Bob Woolmer-Hansie Cronje years. It was like watching Craig Matthews or Fanie de Villiers bowl, and even someone of the quality of Inzamam-ul-Haq was clueless as Botha bowled his eight overs for five runs and two wickets.

Over the course of an unforgettable St Patrick's Day, what we saw was a team where every individual appeared to raise his game, whether it was Johnston with that sensational catch to dismiss Kamran Akmal or Eoin Morgan with superb slip catches. William Porterfield rode his luck for a valuable 13, blocking up one end while the pint-sized Niall O'Brien went for his shots, and after a late wobble, Kevin O'Brien helped Johnston see it home with a fighting knock.

The bald and affable Jeremy Bray had played his part in the tie against Zimbabwe, scoring a brilliant 115, while Kyle McCallan, the teacher who might now need to take some extra days off, got the fortunate touch that changed the course of a game that Zimbabwe seemed to be have in their grasp.

They may come unstuck against West Indies, but unless things go drastically wrong, there's a Super Eight date with England to look forward to in Guyana a week on Saturday. For James Joyce's son, there will certainly be mixed emotions.

What they say

"But for me the weekend - the whole winter, come to that - was lit up by the brothers O'Brien, that nerveless brace of freckled Celtic redheads who with such serenity and staunch skill at the crease dispatched Pakistan from cricket's World Cup. - Nobody tells it quite like Frank Keating in The Guardian

What the Irish say

"Our fielding is excellent, we have a long batting line-up and the bowling's very good when we get it right. But if you ask me what our greatest strength is, it's the team spirit." - Adrian Birrell talks about his side, and no, he wasn't referring to Guinness or Bushmills. At least, we think not.

Nishi Narayanan is a staff writer at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • testli5504537 on March 25, 2007, 8:45 GMT

    No offence to the Irish, but they will be whipped in Super 8's. They have done brillant to get in 2nd round, considering it is there first World cup.

  • testli5504537 on March 24, 2007, 10:33 GMT

    From what i saw of Irland yesterday during the west Indies Game if this guys can get about 250 against any of the best sides in the world in this supper 8 series it will be very hard to chase down because i think the fielding is the best part of the game and it seems to come from their teams spirit.

  • testli5504537 on March 24, 2007, 9:59 GMT

    i dont think that ireland should be written off in the super-8s. they can win 1-2 ODIs in the super-8. the performance against pakistan wasnt just a 1-off. ireland had south africa struggling at 91/8 in the warm-up before andrew hall staged a dramatic recovery. the irish will know that and will try to improve upon with a win. ireland, in the next wrm-up, crushed canada comfortably by bowling them out for 115. also, ireland have their strike-bowlers bowling at 130-135 kph, which is about 10-15 kph faster than bowlers from other non-test teams.

    also, they have their traditional rivals england as well whom they have already aimed of beating. in the last match between the 2 teams, ireland scored 263 missing 3 of their main players, mainly batsmen due to county commitments. they can aim to win against bangladesh though and have a slight chance against everyone except maybe australia and i hope they do pull off 1-2 upsets

  • testli5504537 on March 24, 2007, 7:00 GMT

    Ireland have shown good Cricket therefore they are in the super 8. I don't expect miracles from this team but it is definit that Cricket has a new (powerful) contender.

  • testli5504537 on March 24, 2007, 0:32 GMT

    Pakistan has lost. Don't lose heart. There will be another chance at the next world cup. All they need to do is to go back to the drawing table and see where they have made the mistakes.

  • testli5504537 on March 23, 2007, 12:56 GMT

    Yes, it was a good performance by the Irish, but as my Afrikaans friend always say: "Nou gaan julle op julle moer kry." Meaning they will be brought down to earth in a harsh way. I also think that the format of the competition needs to be adjusted.

  • testli5504537 on March 23, 2007, 12:29 GMT

    Just a fine example of what unity and cohesiveness amongst team-mates can accomplish. These lads have big hearts and that alone can overcome any obstacle. I truely believe that they will turn many more heads in this tournament...the fairytale has only just begun!!!

  • testli5504537 on March 23, 2007, 9:50 GMT

    There have been 9 world cup so far and we have not come to conclusion about format of the competition. Current format gives teams no chance to recover. If such kind of format existed in 1992, there is no way pakistan have won the world cup, having 1 point from 4 matches in early stages.

  • testli5504537 on March 22, 2007, 16:01 GMT

    The Irish team have earned their right to have a go in the Super 8 s. That's all they will do but it is a great opportunity for the team to test themselves and learn and also to give the game some exposure at home. Would Pritam like to see a world cup where matches are played over and over until Pakistan win?! It's a tournament. Teams get knocked out. Get over it and learn how to lose properly.

  • testli5504537 on March 22, 2007, 14:39 GMT

    Irish team may give tough time to Kiwis and English team and may win one of the two games. Aussies and Proteas will outclass them. Their games with rest of the team will be average.

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