Ireland set to unveil more powerful approach
Ireland coach John Bracewell has promised a more powerful approach to Twenty20 cricket from his team. He joined Ireland following their moderately successful 2015 World Cup, and realised after a disappointing show in the World T20 Qualifiers that his side needed to improve its power-hitting game.
Although Ireland had Kevin O'Brien and Paul Stirling earlier too, most of their batsmen were touch players, like William Porterfield, Ed Joyce and Andrew Balbirnie. Even Niall O'Brien relies on cheek more than brawn. Bracewell felt the need to consciously work on intimidating the opposition bowlers.
"We are physically more mature now, and even mentally we are tougher now," Bracewell said. "And we had some concentrated T20 focus which leading into that tournament [qualifiers last year] we didn't have. It is the first I had as a team. The climate changes all the time."
When asked to elaborate on "physically mature", Bracewell said: "We are a bit more powerful now. We had a little of power-hitting. We changed our physical programme a little bit more, targeting power-hitting and making sure guys are in the right positions. They get confidence to strike the ball harder."
According to Bracewell, Porterfield and Gary Wilson are two examples of batsmen who have become bigger hitters. "Other guys are also getting the confidence to do that and believe now," Bracewell said. "It is a matter of getting one thing on the night, and also the physical confidence to do that."
Even in this era of big bats, Bracewell felt power was indispensable. "Power plays a huge role," he said. "Not all the grounds we play on are small and some grounds are big even now and intimidation for batters is a powerful point."
One of the other reasons, Bracewell felt, for Ireland's ordinary show in the qualifiers was the pressure of playing at home and being expected to do well in front of home crowds. Ireland cannot escape that pressure over the next week. They are the darling Associate team with equal parts flair, results and underdog to them, and are always expected to do well when they come up against other Associates.
"The landscape in Associate cricket is changing very quickly," Bracewell said. "In fact it's changing very quickly with the new qualification structures. It's very difficult for Associates to qualify for the (50-over) World Cup, so this is the only realistic structure that's in place for Associates to actually qualify for. Therefore, all the Associate teams are closing the gap on each other rapidly. Most of them are focusing on this as this is the only world stage that's available.
"Ireland is trying to qualify for Test cricket and also maintain a one-day profile. We still have a chance to qualify for the next World Cup so we're looking at three formats. Now, with our resources, that's difficult because we're on a very limited budget. The Test sides have a minimum 10 million dollar budget more than what we have, so it's a difficult thing. T20 is separate because the gap is narrowing in terms of the ability to play it and also the concentration to get better at it."
Now, Ireland are expected to win three matches in five days or go back to the invisible world of qualifiers. Bracewell said Ireland were trying to not look at it as a pressure situation. "Great preparation, that's how I see it," Bracewell said. "There's no better preparation for the tournament than play in the tournament itself. That's how I see it. I see it as a glass half full, not half empty.
"It doesn't matter what people call it [qualifiers or the first stage of the main event]. We're looking at it as a great opportunity to qualify for the main tournament. And if we qualify, we'll be ready to compete because we're match fit in these conditions."
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo