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Having previously gone under the radar, there is no longer any underestimation of Ireland
September 19, 2012
If you are successful in business or about to enter adulthood, you will be told endlessly to protect your good reputation at all costs. Avoid fraud and lying in the gutter at two in the morning. Shane Watson's advice for Ireland after Australia had peremptorily put them in their place was quite the opposite: their reputation is now so good that their chances of another giant-killing escapade are for the moment retreating.
Australia's win by seven wickets with 29 balls remaining did not tell the winners anything they did not already know, but the fact they were so on their mettle from the outset said more about Ireland. Watson, who removed their captain, William Porterfield, with the first ball of the match and then made 51 from 30 balls to make light of a target of 124, had more than earned the right to tell them that life might never be as easy again.
"It is probably going to get even harder for Ireland now," he said. "They know what they are going to get from the opposition is full tilt every single game. The better Ireland get the more people are going to make sure they are up for the game.
"That is taking nothing away from Ireland in the past, but with the quality of the players they have and what they have shown on the world stage in World Cups the biggest sides know that if they are slightly off the Irish can certainly take a game away from them. I am sure with the quality of players they are going to improve. It is a great thing for world cricket to see the quality of players they are bringing through."
The ball from Watson was banged in short at 123kph and Porterfield top-edged a hook to Starc at long leg. Watson had a neat response to the suggestion that it evoked memories of Porterfield's first-ball duck against England in Bangalore in last year's World Cup. "If it was a case of 'Here We Go Again' I'd be sitting in this press conference second and not first," he said, a suitable reminder that Ireland went on to win that game. But Porterfield got out for nought twice in one-day games this summer, against Afghanistan, and Australia when he was blown away first ball by Brett Lee on what was to become his farewell tour, so it follows a frustrating pattern.
Watson made no attempt to overdress the quality of the delivery. "I had been thinking about how to bowl the first over for about a day," he said. "We knew how important it was to make a statement and I knew as I was bowling the first over it starts with me. It was more to show intent as much as anything. It wasn't a wicket ball I suppose but luckily it just worked out that way. Also for it to be their captain made it a pretty important step for us."
Perhaps Ireland's stock will continue to rise through good planning and Watson will be proved correct that a potentially awkward phase will eventually run its course, although with England sniffing around for any player of true quality, it will not be easy. Boyd Rankin is the next in line, following Eoin Morgan and Ed Joyce, who has since made the reverse journey. His contract with Cricket Ireland ends in December, he has signed a three-year contract with Warwickshire, the county champions, and he pleads the need to limit his workload as a fast bowler to justify his decision to pursue what he describes as his "genuine ambition to play Test cricket".
Perhaps what they really need ahead of their second group game against West Indies on Monday is a spot of carousing in Colombo's bars - it is possible to find Guinness, too, although perhaps not to the quality of Grogans in Dublin where some of the customers look as if they have supped their fill for a very long time. Follow up with some tall tales about how they are thinking of becoming amateurs again and they might just have a chance.
Ireland's temerity in moving above Australia in the Twenty20 rankings had to be dismissed by Watson as "not a driving force". He has no choice when their ambitions extend to winning the tournament, but Australia's coach, Micky Arthur, had been able to remark that he would not relax until victory had been achieved against Ireland without anybody questioning his judgment.
The positives for Australia were simply that an apprehensive side with a patchy T20 record was immediately on the money. As long as the Premadasa pitches retain their pace, Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins will be a challenging pair of fast bowlers and Brad Hogg will believe that his chinamen are going to be the story of the tournament.
But when they batted they merely underlined what everyone already knows - that Watson (his stand out the muscular six over midwicket against the left-arm spin of George Dockrell that brought up his 50 in 28 balls), Warner and Mike Hussey are a strong top three and it is the middle order that needs the sort of high-pressure situations in which it can advance its reputation.
If that does not happen then as the pitches turn and become more reliable it would be no surprise to see Daniel Christian's medium pace quietly jettisoned in favour of David Hussey, an extra batsman, and asked him to fiddle through a fifth-bowler spell with Glenn Maxwell.
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