Ireland have nothing to prove to ICC - Phil Simmons
The stakes are high for Ireland as they prepare for their first international assignment - a two-match ODI series against Pakistan - since the 2011 World Cup, an opportunity to restate their credentials as worthy participants in 2015. The ICC had axed the Associates from the next World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, but will reassess the tournament's composition at its annual conference in June, following criticism of the decision to limit participation to the ten Full Members.
Ireland's coach Phil Simmons, however, has said his side will not be looking at the series solely as a chance to prove a point to the ICC. Ireland were easily the most impressive Associate team in 2011 World Cup, where they beat England in a major upset, stretched West Indies and Bangladesh in the league phase, and pulled off a convincing win against Netherlands.
"I don't see these matches as a case of proving the ICC wrong," Simmons told PA Sport on the eve of the first ODI in Belfast. "I think the cricket world knows that it [the ICC's] is the wrong decision. We will go out there and prove things to ourselves, that we can beat these top teams. The more we beat them the closer we will get to what we want to achieve, which is getting higher in the world rankings.
Ireland's World Cup showing may not have impressed the ICC, but Simmons believes it has earned his side respect from their opponents. "The big teams think about us a bit more now," he said. "I don't think they come and just play us without discussing us. They may have done that a year ago, but now they will plan for us better so we have to be on our game. We've crossed a stage since last year where we go into games now planning to win, not planning to survive. It's not a case of 'are we going to make 200' but 'how are we going to win the game'."
William Porterfield, the Ireland captain, also said the 2015 World Cup wouldn't be the main focus of his team, but acknowledged that a good showing against Pakistan wouldn't hurt their chances of getting a favourable decision from the ICC. "We're looking for positive results from the games. If we do that then it will enhance our chances and give us more ammunition," he said. "We've looked at these games as massive games for ourselves.
"We're always crying out for more of them regardless of what is going on at the high table. To be honest it's a great opportunity for us to go out and play against the fifth-ranked team in the world. But from the standpoint of the World Cup, yes it is important."
Pakistan arrive straight from the West Indies, where they drew the two-Test series 1-1. Simmons said the drastic change in conditions could be a problem for the visitors. "I think the weather can help us," he said. "If it's as cold as this then there is always that little bit of an advantage. The main thing here is that they've seen us play in our conditions, and we are good in these conditions. We are hard to beat. We almost beat Australia in Dublin last year. Since then we've got more confidence, you saw that in the World Cup, and if we can play with that confidence we can win for sure."
Waqar Younis, the Pakistan coach, was wary of Ireland's abilities to spring surprises, and said they deserved to remain in the World Cup. "Just looking at the World Cup, because I haven't seen much of their cricket outside that, they played like champions. It was top-level cricket," Waqar said. "The ICC have got a different ruling but I personally believe they have a good side and they are getting better day by day.
"They are a good side, young and very enthusiastic," he said. "They chased 300-plus against England. Who thought they could do that? They are a very positive side and they are big fighters. We know what they are capable of. We have to be very, very careful."
Waqar admitted that acclimatising to the weather change was going to be a challenge for his side. "Coming from 35-40 degrees with a lot of humidity there, and coming into this weather, it is hard to adjust, especially with all those flights as well," he said. "I think we are professional enough to adapt to the conditions very quickly.
The games will be played in Belfast, on May 28 and 30 respectively.