Ireland no longer just a warm up
June 23, 2012, Stormont
Start time 10.45 (0945GMT)
The Big Picture
Ireland do not want to be seen as doughty minnows any longer. With a squad now furnished as much by accomplished county players as jobbing Australian expatriates, and a clear path to the next World Cup laid out ahead of them, the Irish are chasing more regular international contests, and need strong results to earn it. The visit of Australia for a one-off match in Belfast is the sort of opportunity the hosts have been seeking to further their ambitions of a place at cricket's top table, proving they can consistently match wits and skills with the major nations outside the occasional thrill of a tournament upset, as happened in World Cup pool matches against Pakistan in 2007 and England in 2011.
Following the Australia fixture, Ireland will face Afghanistan in a round of 2015 World Cup qualifiers, meaning the visit of Michael Clarke's team will provide pointers towards the shape of the Irish side to play those matches. The likes of Tim Murtagh, the Middlesex seamer who has recently qualified to play for Ireland, will be looking to shore up places in the team, and others including Ed Joyce and George Dockrell will want some international from behind them when they enter those fixtures. Later in the year is the World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka, where Ireland are scheduled to face Australia once more in their opening match. Events at Stormont will give both sides a good idea of what to expect in September, albeit in conditions that could not be more different.
For Clarke's team, the match offers a chance to get further into the right groove for facing England over five ODIs from June 29. Australia are defending their place as the world's top-ranked ODI team, a concern made more central by the introduction of a new central contracting system that places heavier emphasis on international performance when weighting the pay offered to the players. The Australians looked sturdy enough in their opening tour fixture against Leicestershire, but will know that Ireland will offer a far sterner test.
However, it may not even get started. The weather has been so poor that the umpires will inspect at 6am on Saturday to assess conditions.
Form guide(Most recent first)
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Alongside his Tasmanian teammate Ed Cowan, George Bailey now finds himself a member of an Australian team but not a central contract holder. A brief cameo at Grace Road showed that Bailey was in reasonable touch - If far from impervious to the moving ball - and he will want to do more against Ireland to shore up his middle order spot ahead of Peter Forrest. This match will also offer decent scouting opportunities for Bailey, as he will lead Australia in the World T20 and thus will make assessments of his Irish opposition in this fixture.
One of the brightest young batsmen in limited-overs cricket around the world, Paul Stirling can raise his reputation another notch by performing against Australia. In addition to bolstering his team's efforts to beat Clarke's team, A flash-filled innings by Stirling would enhance his claims to T20 contracts with overseas teams, with the teams of the Big Bash League in particular casting around for fresh talent to introduce in Australia this summer. Beyond there lies the IPL, an attractive prospect for a young batsman whose country has yet to reach the level of Test match status.
Ireland have a strong squad to pick from full of players with county experience. Tim Murtagh could make his international debut while all eyes will again be on Kevin O'Brien. Ed Joyce, meanwhile, has a hundred against Australia when he played for England.
Ireland squad William Porterfield (capt), Alex Cusack, George Dockrell, Trent Johnston, Ed Joyce, John Mooney, Tim Murtagh, Kevin O'Brien, Niall O'Brien, Max Sorensen, Paul Stirling, Andrew White, Gary Wilson.
Michael Clarke did not reveal any team news after arriving in Belfast and wanted to assess conditions, but he will be keen to give as many players as possible a run before the England series.
Australia squad David Warner, Matthew Wade (wk), Shane Watson, Michael Clarke (capt), David Hussey, George Bailey, Steve Smith, Mitchell Johnson, Clint McKay, James Pattinson, Xavier Doherty, Pat Cummins, Peter Forrest, Ben Hilfenhaus, Brett Lee
Pitch and conditions
Sadly for Cricket Ireland, who put in huge effort for these marquee international fixtures, the forecast is poor for Saturday. If they do get play expect the pitch to be on the slow side.
Stats and trivia
- When the teams played each other in Dublin in 2010 Australia won by 39 runs but not before a fright as Paul Stirling and William Porterfield put on 80 in 10 overs.
- Michael Clarke made a duck in that fixture - stumped off Alex Cusack.
- Brett Lee needs another five ODI wickets to pass Glenn McGrath's mark of 381.
"We believe in ourselves and I think above all that match in 2010 gives us confidence. We proved that we can compete with a fantastic Australia side and that we can go up against them and get close. Hopefully we can do that again."
Gary Wilson expects to push Australia close
"I think the more we win the more momentum we take into the series against Engalnd but it is important we do focus on the opposition we're playing against. The Ireland cricket board will do everything in their power to try to get a game tomorrow and the Australian team's very keen to get out there and get the opportunity to play here in Belfast."
Michael Clarke is an anxious for a match as Cricket Ireland
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here