Unknowns Oman take on big-event regulars Ireland
Wednesday, March 9, 2016
Start time 1930 local (1400 GMT)
The most heartbreaking part of the tournament is already underway, and Ireland and Oman will be the last ones to enter the crucible. Ireland are arguably the most backed Associate team by the neutral fan, and that they have to play the qualifiers - or whatever the ICC might call this round - is the face of the injustice to Associate teams. They have caused upsets in three successive 50-over World Cups even though their Twenty20 form of late has been wonky; they struggled in the qualifiers at home last year, losing to Papua New Guinea, Hong Kong and Netherlands.
Ireland's batting has been a bit of a worry; they have reached 150 only once in their last 11 matches. Although they have not had a chance to score 150 on all of these occasions - they have been asked to chase lower scores too - the lack of power hitting has been a bit of a concern, which is why coach John Bracewell has focussed on that aspect of their game. When asked about his side's batting, captain William Porterfield was defiant and wondered if the reporter was talking about Oman's batting. "That's the perception," he said. "I am not too bothered about that. I think we are in a good place. I am happy where we are."
Against Oman, the relative unknowns of this round, Ireland will need their power hitting. Largely built of immigrants of Indian and Pakistani origin, Oman have caught the attention of the hardcore fan with their hard-nosed attitude to cricket, especially their refusal to bow down to the idea of the spirit of cricket when it comes to a batsman stealing yards at the non-striker's end. Porterfield made it clear his side doesn't play its cricket that way, and that they are not going to mankad players, which makes for a delicious contrast with Oman who refuse to be apologetic about it.
Here is to a mankading in the first game with both sides standing their ground without getting ugly about it. And here is to a close first game.
Ireland LWLWW (last five completed matches, most recent first)
Watch out for
Boyd Rankin is back for Ireland. This is not exactly news, but this will be only his third international back after his return, and the first big tournament. He will love the conditions in Dharamsala. Every captain has said he expects good pace and carry. Rankin will be a big test for Oman batsmen who don't usually get to face that pace form such tall bowlers. On the eve of the game, Porterfield said of Rankin: "It is great to have him back. It is like he hasn't been away. Good to have him back on this surface. If there is something in the surface he is great, but even if there isn't he has got the accuracy to be a threat on any surface."
Munis Ansari has drawn everybody's attention with a perfect impersonation of Lasith Malinga's action. He slings them in like Malinga, but not at his pace. That is the kind of bowler who can travel when put under pressure. He is also a bowler who can win games if he gets it right. Ireland have never faced Oman in an international so that could help Ansari.
Ireland have no fitness concerns despite a stomach bug here or there during the week. They have all 15 to choose from. Porterfield declined to talk about the combination, but they could leave out the Stuarts, Poynter and Thompson. Andy Balbirnie opened with Porterfield in their last warm-up, but that was in the absence of Paul Stirling who is available now. One of the seamers, and one out of Balbirnie and Andy McBrine might miss out.
Ireland (probable) 1 William Porterfield (capt), 2 Paul Stirling, 3 Andrew Poynter, 4 Niall O'Brien, 5 Gary Wilson (wk), 6 Kevin O'Brien, 7 Andy McBrine/Andy Balbirnie, 8 George Dockrell, 9 Max Sorensen, 10 Tim Murtagh, 11 Boyd Rankin
Oman are the unknowns in the tournament, and didn't give any indication of changes they might make to the XI that played the last T20I for them.
Oman (probable) 1 Zeeshan Maqsood, 2 Jatinder Singh, 3 Aaqib Sulehri, 4 Adnan Ilyas, 5 Aamir Kaleem, 6 Sultan Ahmed (capt & wk), 7 Mehran Khan, 8 Amir Ali, 9 Sufyan Mehmood, 10 Munis Ansari, 11 Bilal Khan
Pitch and conditions
The pitch is expected to be hard and bouncy with the evening chill adding another dimension to it. The dew will be a factor too. Luckily the hail storms and snow of the previous few days have missed the start of the tournament in Dharamsala.
Stats and trivia
- This is the first time Ireland are facing Oman in an international match
- Kevin O'Brien is two caps short of becoming the first Ireland cricketer to play 50 Twenty20 internationals
- George Dockrell is six short of 50 T20 international wickets. No Irishman, and only 11 bowlers world over, have managed the feat
- This is Ireland's eighth World Cup, and Oman's first
"You always get a bit of a thrill anytime you're playing in a World Cup. Myself, brother Niall, and William [Porterfield] have been fortunate enough to play in all eight, but each one brings something new and there's always a sense of adventure."
Ireland's Kevin O'Brien
"If mankading is so wrong, why is it in the rules of the game? It is the batsman who is violating the spirit of cricket by stealing yards."
Sultan Ahmed, Oman captain
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo