Confident Irish likely to stretch India
It may be a while before Belfast begins buzzing in anticipation of cricket but for India's cricketers tomorrow's ODI against Ireland, who turned heads by entering the Super Eights at the World Cup, is the start of a challenging season. It gives them an opportunity to get into a groove ahead of tougher series against South Africa and England.
The Indians spent the last few days far from the madding crowd, going through their paces without their every move being scrutinised. The Stormont ground has been gearing up for the series, with, as Hindustan Times reported, "People laying down cables, counting crates of water bottles, unloading equipment from trucks."
The field, reportedly, was rather damp and the covers were on for most of the morning. Given the recent rain, and the heavy cloud cover, one would expect conditions to favour the bowlers and the pitch to be slower compared to the one used for the England-Ireland contest last year, the only ODI played at this ground. That match saw 564 runs scored, and England cruised home by 38-runs. India, however, are likely to encounter bowler-friendly conditions.
After missing the Bangladesh ODIs Sourav Ganguly is likely to return to the top of the order, to be followed by an experienced line-up that includes Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar and Yuvraj Singh in the middle order. Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who now has the additional responsibility of vice-captaincy, provides power to a line-up that promises much on paper at least. On the bowling front, however, India might rest Zaheer Khan who is yet to recover fully from a groin injury. "Zaheer Khan has had an injury coming here. So we are trying to just ease him into the tour. We are still trying to assess how well he progressed after two days of practice," Dravid said. "Both Sourav Ganguly and Sachin Tendulkar can bowl a bit of seam and we have other options so we got to take a look at that."
It will be a contest between a team that finished seventh in the World Cup and another which didn't even qualify for the Super Eights but Ireland's bubble is threatening to burst. It's their first international since their Super Eights appearance but Phil Simmons, the former West Indies opener who is now their coach, has had to contend with injury and unavailability issues.
Eoin Morgan, the Middlesex left-hander, chose to stay with his club to cement a first-team place, rather than play for his country, and Jeremy Bray, the opener, also opted out. Boyd Rankin, who made such a strong impression in the Caribbean with his bounce, is injured and the bowling attack is also missing David Langford-Smith and Andre Botha.
Dominick Joyce, Ed's brother, has been recalled and there will be a lot of pressure on Niall O'Brien, the wicketkeeper-batsman, to score the bulk of the runs. Their inspirational captain, Trent Johnston, will have plenty on his shoulders and this is the true test of where Irish cricket stands and what the future holds after the World Cup.
"The team is unrecognisable from the World Cup but I hope the boys who have been to the West Indies can lead from the front and put up a strong performance," Andrew White, the Ireland allrounder, told reporters. "We are well over the time when Irish players were looking at the badge on the front of the helmet or the name on the shirt. We are now bowling at the stumps and looking at the ball. Having faced the best, and beaten them, we don't fear anyone and we know that we can compete if we play well on the day."