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August 24, 2011
There are two Anglo-Irish sporting fixtures in Dublin over the next few days and it's safe to say the rugby clash at the weekend will have the nation more hooked than the cricket match at Clontarf on Thursday. However, that shouldn't diminish the significance of the latter contest, given the recent history between the two teams, the growth in popularity of cricket in Ireland and the added twist that both sides will be captained by Irishmen.
Eoin Morgan, who is making his England captaincy debut against the country he represented 23 times at ODI level, has known William Porterfield since the pair were ten but the friendship, which remains strong, will be pushed to one side from the moment the coin is tossed (at 10.15am, because England fly out the same evening). Both players, unsurprisingly, played down the significance of the event but it adds another level of spice to an occasion that is already developing the lively history that typifies sporting contests between the two countries.
"It will be different going out to toss against him," Porterfield said. "But he's done well for himself across the water. He knows where he wants to go and what he wants to do and I think he'll be a good captain. It's a natural progression for someone of his quality. It doesn't bother me. He's been playing with them for a couple of years. I'll be tossing the coin against a mate, but also against England in a one-day international so it doesn't matter who it is."
Morgan, befitting a player who remains icy cool in the most intense run-chases, wasn't getting worked up over the prospect of leadership which he believes is a continuation of the role he takes with the bat. "I'm absolutely not nervous, I'm looking forward to it," he said. "I'm proud of myself, my family are proud of me and the majority of them will be here. It's a huge honour and privilege to be in the position I am at the moment, for this game in particular.
"I wouldn't have imagined it. I certainly enjoy playing against Ireland and I've done it a number of times, playing against some of the guys I've grown up with, so it will be an enjoyable day for me. The first time I played against them there was a bit of banter flying around but it's got to the state where we are all quite comfortable and we don't really bother much."
Although Morgan's appointment will take the number of England captains this season to four, the coach Andy Flower - who is also sitting out this fixture - said that Alastair Cook was not given the option of resuming his ODI leadership role, as he was told to rest after a tough assignment of four Tests in five weeks against India. Besides, Morgan, who was named as Twenty20 vice-captain earlier in the season, appears to have depths to his game that England are eager to explore.
"It is a good opportunity for him to lead the side," said Flower. "I don't think he's captained much as an adult cricketer apart from the odd occasion for Middlesex. But he's a confident young man, he is confident in his ideas about the game, he chooses his words carefully and he doesn't waste words and I think the way he plays and approaches the game is important in a leader and people will follow a man like that."
Morgan missed the match at the World Cup with a broken finger and admits not seeing Kevin O'Brien's thunderous innings because he as visiting the specialist. However, the scenes in Bangalore on March 2 won't be forgotten in a hurry - certainly by anyone who was wearing the emerald green that famous evening- and there is an air of confidence around Ireland that victory can be repeated.
This time they aren't facing a full-strength England team - only Jonathan Trott remains from the 11 who took the field that night, although there's an argument to say it looks a better one-day side than was fielded at stages during the World Cup - and, while privately it may be a disappointment not be able to take on Kevin Pietersen and company, the party line is Ireland are happy for the chance to beat any England side. They are by far the more experienced squad with 511 caps to England's 202.
"When you play any full nation you want to beat them, but in any sport Ireland against England is a big occasion and gives it an extra edge. You'll see that when they play each other in the rugby," Porterfield said. "We beat them last time and ran them close in Stormont [in 2009]. It's a game we don't struggle to get up for."
Although it has meant some star names aren't in town, England's shadow side is not actually a bad thing for this match. That meeting in 2009 - which England edged by three runs thanks to a brilliant piece of boundary fielding by Morgan - was a largely forgettable affair, partly because of the dank weather but also because England didn't want to be there having completed Ashes victory two days earlier. This time, apart from Morgan and Ravi Bopara, the players who have savoured the huge high of whitewashing India have the chance to reflect and recharge, while a group of hungry cricketers can impress.
"We get carried away by names of players," Phil Simmons, the Ireland coach, said. "If I was in that position I would do the same thing. We have 13 [England] players here with six or seven trying to stay in the squad for next week and six or seven trying to force them out. There will be guys here who will be hungry, so it's not for me to say who they have sent over."
Morgan also insisted that this squad - which includes four uncapped players in James Taylor, Jonny Bairstow, Ben Stokes and Scott Borthwick - isn't an example of England taking Ireland lightly, but rather a case of making the most of an opportunity to assess their bench-strength. "We've played Ireland three times recently and they have all been competitive games," he said. "We aren't taking Ireland for granted because we know what they are capable of and we know we have to play very good cricket to beat them."
"Take nothing away from the guys who are coming in," he added. "A lot of them have already played and the four new guys who have come in are the brightest and biggest talents in English cricket at the moment so no-one should be disappointed with the side we've come with. The side is always hungry. It's why we thrive in the Test arena and what we're looking to do in one-day cricket as well."
This, though, is no easy warm-up before the Twenty20 and one-day matches against India. Ireland will also be helped by a full house at Clontarf - the 'sold out' signs have been up for weeks - and the intimate ground could become quite a cauldron if the home side get on top.
"It's great to play in front of packed house," Porterfield said. "We played against Australia a few years ago and we should get more this time. It's right on top of you as well on the boundary edge, it's a great atmosphere. We'll be looking to put on a good show and give four or five-thousand people what they want."
Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: Andrew McGlashan
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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