Ireland left to ponder questions after World T20 exit
For seven years, Ireland have been cricket's scrappy outsiders, gate-crashing world tournaments and picking up prize scalps. Pakistan, Bangladesh, England and Zimbabwe have all had their noses rubbed in it by a side which always seems to add up to more than the sum of its parts.
For almost a decade they have been top dogs in Associate cricket, a position cemented by their being crowned champions in all three formats in 2013, and no side, not even the best in the world, has taken apart their attack quite as brutally as Netherlands did in Sylhet.
Kevin O'Brien took a similar death-or-glory approach in Bangalore in 2011 and it paid off with a match-winning century against England. But to be on the other side of such an onslaught was not pleasant.
"It's a bit of a shock," O'Brien admitted after the game. "None of us really envisaged what has just happened. We just didn't have any answers."
Although disappointed with the result, Cricket Ireland's chief executive Warren Deutrom saw nothing to divert him from his aim of getting Ireland to the sport's top table.
"It was one of those days when everything went right for Netherlands," Deutrom said. "I've never seen a batting performance like it. They just went for it from the first ball, which you've got to admire."
Deutrom isn't concerned that the defeat and early exit will have negative repercussions for his organisation as it continues to make its case at ICC: "Cricket people will look at that and see how it was one of those days. In the last four weeks, we have beaten West Indies and Zimbabwe, both full members, and those results aren't wiped away by a freak batting performance."
Irish supporters, who usually travel in numbers to world events but gave this one a miss - saving for Australia/New Zealand 2015, they say - were more nonplussed than angered by the defeat. The Blarney Army isn't used to seeing its team beaten by Associates - just 12 losses in 110 games since 2007, and Netherlands' win was their first in 18 against Ireland since 2008.
Blame was hurled, too: at Ed Joyce for dropping Tom Cooper on 1; at the bowlers who never found their length; at the captain for his lack of answers. But the bowlers who were carted around the Divisional Stadium were the same who were magnificent against Zimbabwe and UAE. Alex Cusack was savaged on the internet forums that sang his praises two weeks earlier when he took 4-14 and 2-17 in four-over spells in Kingston.
When emotions cool, however, there will be a need for answers on why two offspinners were entrusted with the new ball, one of them a 20-year-old who played his maiden T20 international only four days before. Andy McBrine is a fine prospect, who was a real success in the West Indies, but he should have never been asked to set the tone for the innings against a batsman like Peter Borren, who feasts on spin. This after Borren and Stephan Myburgh had got their eye in against the similar style of Paul Stirling in the previous over. McBrine went for four sixes and Netherlands were on their way.
The captain looked lost without the counsel of the retired Trent Johnston, and with the absence of John Mooney and the continued exclusion of Niall O'Brien the side lacked the traditional Irish sporting qualities of "boot, bollock and bite". Niall O'Brien was suspended in 2012 for missing an Intercontinental Cup game in Kenya and Gary Wilson was given the gloves in his absence. The Surrey man has continued to wear them since O'Brien's return.
Phil Simmons has drawn wide criticism for his refusal to countenance a switch, despite Wilson's lack of day-to-day experience - he kept in four games for Surrey last summer, a total of 242 overs, against O'Brien's 2,304 overs behind the stumps at Leicestershire. It has weakened the team in the field, too, where O'Brien is a poor outfielder and Wilson one of the best.
A series of keeping blunders last year - including a couple which probably cost Ireland a win over Pakistan - frustrated the players and a delegation of four senior bowlers approached the management in Abu Dhabi in November requesting change. Wilson, who is close to the captain, kept the gloves.
The team management will also have to explain why, incredibly, it failed to let the captain know just why Netherlands had set off with such belligerence to get the runs within 86 balls. Porterfield himself was clearly irked by the blunder. "I was more concerned about defending 190 runs but I only found that out with about 20 balls to go," Porterfield admitted in three separate interviews after the game.
"I might have gone about it differently," Porterfield insisted. "I thought spin was going to be the way but maybe we could have gone with the seamers slightly earlier to try to get the run-rate up, and try to get them out of the game. That might have made it easier."
His bowlers struggled with the no-fear attack of the Netherlands batsmen on a good pitch, and their carefully-worked out plans were torn up. But the sheer freaky nature of the display was best summed-up by Porterfield: "Maybe we bowled too full - but it's hard when one ball is going straight over your head and the next is disappearing over midwicket."
Simmons will continue to search for and develop new bowlers. Three fast-medium seamers have spent several weeks in Australia, working with Craig McDermott. Craig Young, a former Sussex player, came on so well that he was selected for Bangladesh.
"We've never necessarily ever had an express pace man," Porterfield said. "Boyd Rankin was the last quick bowler we had but he's playing for England. Express pace is one of the things we'd want - so would quite a few teams around the world.
"Craig Young has that potential, and we have Peter Chase back home as well. We'll be looking to those lads over the next 12 months to step up and get as much experience as they can. I know Craig has learned a lot over the last eight weeks and played a couple of times when we were in the West Indies. But the more he plays and learns, the better it's going to be for ourselves because he does have that something different."