Ireland still hopeful of Intercontinental Cup success
Ireland batsman Paul Stirling is hopeful that his side can defend their Intercontinental Cup title ahead of the game against Canada in Toronto starting on August 31 and believes success in their final two games of the tournament would give Ireland an important boost ahead of the World Cup next year.
"Winning the ICC Intercontinental Cup again would definitely increase the confidence even more. It's going to be tricky to get there but we are going to give it our best shot and hopefully we can go and win," said Stirling. "It is something I definitely want to do as I missed out on the last one and would love to be able to go and win it in Dubai."
Scotland won the first Intercontinental Cup in 2004, beating Canada in the final, while Ireland has been victorious in all three events since then, beating Kenya in the 2005 decider, Canada in the 2006-07 event and Namibia in 2007-08. Ireland are currently fifth on the competition's points table, 45 points behind frontrunners Afghanistan, but could still make the final in Dubai if they take maximum points from their final two games against Canada and Zimbabwe XI.
"It is a big match and hopefully we will go out there and perform and get the points that we need," added Stirling. "We go out in every game and play the same way, whether that extra pressure is on or not. We don't put that pressure on ourselves and we know if we go and perform on each of the four days to the best of our abilities then we will win.
"We have a very strong squad and very strong depth in our squad. We have players who can step up and perform at first-class level. If rain hadn't come and scuppered our chances in a couple of the games then we would have had a better chance of qualifying and it would have been an easier route to the final."
Ireland will be missing Alex Cusack through injury, while William Porterfield, Boyd Rankin and Gary Wilson are all on county duty in England. However, the team will be led by the experienced Trent Johnston, a veteran of 146 games for Ireland, and is bolstered by the return of Andre Botha, who has recovered from a stress fracture, and Phil Eaglestone, who is back to fitness following a side strain.
Beaten finalists in 2004 and 2007, it is a different story for Canada this time round as they are languishing at the bottom of the table after four defeats and have little other than pride to play for. The return of captain and leading batsman Ashish Bagai is still good news for them, however, as is middle-order batsman Zubin Surkari's recovery from a hamstring injury.
Although Canada stands no chance of making the final for a third time, opening bowler Umar Bhatti explained that there is still plenty to be gained from playing first-class cricket and is determined that his side returns to winning ways after a disappointing World Cricket League Division One campaign in July which included just two victories against a lacklustre Kenyan side.
"I love playing in the Intercontinental Cup as I love playing four-day games," said Bhatti. "It has certainly made me a stronger player. If you are a bowler you have to bowl 25 to 30 overs in an innings and if you are a batsman you have to bat for a session. It takes your game to a whole new level in terms of the mental aspect of the game.
"It has been a disappointing campaign so far, especially as we have been in the finals in the past. We are determined to win this game. In terms of standings we still want to finish as high as we can so that when we start the next campaign we have something to build on. It is a huge game for us and it's the same for Ireland. They are trying to make the final so we want to make sure they don't get there."
Canada squad Ashish Bagai (capt), Rizwan Cheema, Umar Bhatti, Hemnarine Chattergoon, Khurram Chohan, Abzal Dean, Parth Desai, Ruvindu Gunasekara, Jimmy Hansra, Nitish Kumar, Henry Osinde, Hiral Patel, Zubin Surkari, Hamza Tariq
Ireland squad Trent Johnston (capt), Andre Botha, George Dockrell, Phil Eaglestone, Allan Eastwood, Nigel Jones, Rory McCann, John Mooney, Kevin O'Brien, Andrew Poynter, Paul Stirling, Albert van der Merwe, Andrew White