Relaxed Ireland hope to spring a surprise
Having turned over Pakistan a fortnight ago, Ireland won't fear anyone and they will undoubtedly be boosted by the return of Trent Johnston, who missed the encounter against West Indies with a rotator-cuff injury. Johnston's tidy medium-pace and lower-order hitting are integral to Irish hopes, and he showed with a stunning catch against Pakistan that he's no slouch on the field either.
By this time, Johnston and his team were supposed to be back in Ireland, reflecting on their first taste of the World Cup. The West Indies game should have been Adrian Birrell's last in charge, and Phil Simmons, the former West Indies opener, would have been engaged in planning for the future.
The future right now is a golden one, with six Super Eights matches against the best that world cricket has to offer. Johnston called it a hugely exciting time, before thanking the employers who have given most of the players extra time off. "We've had lots of phone calls to make to our bosses back home and they've all been outstanding and we can't thank them enough," he said, a feeling no doubt echoed by Kyle McCallan, who stood in as captain for the West Indies game.
McCallan is a teacher, and has had to ask his headmistress for an extra month off after the dramatic tie against Zimbabwe and the stunning upset of Pakistan sealed Ireland's place amongst the game'e elite. Johnston refused to put any pressure on his side, saying that they'd just go out and enjoy the Super Eights, as they had the three group D games, when the vociferous support from the travelling Irish inspired them to their greatest feats.
They'll probably have a full squad to pick from against England. Rest has allowed the torn fibre in Johnston's shoulder tendon to heal, and Dave Langford-Smith, his fellow Australian, is also putting the pain of back spasms behind him.
|Being the joker in the Super-Eights pack doesn't faze Johnston one bit. On the contrary, it's a tag that he appears to relish. "They would think they have two easy points and we are happy about that," said Johnston, looking at how the other teams might view his|
Johnston reiterated his mantra of performing well in all three disciplines before saying that "the fielding has been outstanding". In Jeremy Bray, Eoin Morgan and Niall O'Brien - the latter two have represented Middlesex and Kent - Ireland have the batsmen with the potential to score big runs, and they'll no doubt take encouragement from the meeting last June when Ireland managed 263 in response to England's 301.
Being the joker in the Super-Eights pack doesn't faze Johnston one bit. On the contrary, it's a tag that he appears to relish. "They would think they have two easy points and we are happy about that," said Johnston, looking at how the other teams might view his. "Maybe they'll be relaxed in their approach, and that's the incentive we need to spring an upset like we did against Pakistan."
On a pitch where the bounce could be variable, the biggest danger for England might be Boyd Rankin, soon to be under Mike Hendrick's tutelage at Derbyshire. A cattle-and-sheep farmer from near Londonderry, Rankin has corrected journalists who have put his height down at 6'7". Apparently, he's an inch taller, with size-15 feet to boot, and his ability to generate good bounce at lively pace will pose questions for the England top order.
"It would be one hell of a party," admitted McCallan when asked about the possibility of victory in a match that also brings with it centuries of political baggage. "We are going ball by ball, we need to be realistic and at the end of the day, we're concerned only about what we can control."
If he and his mates need any omens, it was just over 15 years ago that rank outsiders Zimbabwe knocked over England in a thrilling game in the Australian country town of Albury. The decisive factor in that game was the bowling of Eddo Brandes, a chicken farmer who blasted out five wickets as England fell nine short of a meagre total of 134. Anything a chicken farmer can do, a sheep farmer can do better? And what better incentive than an urn that might give off the flavour of Guinness?
Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo