A planned year of consolidation proved to be one of change for Ireland, with a new coach at the helm, and a returning hero to ease the pain of Trent Johnston's retirement at the end of 2013. Johnston's absence was still being felt in 2015, when results fluctuated as much as off-field events. In February, Ireland chased down 305 to beat West Indies in the World Cup; five months later they suffered home Twenty20 defeats by Papua New Guinea and Hong Kong. Following their final World Cup match in March it was announced that Phil Simmons, Ireland's inspiration for eight years, would become head coach of his native West Indies.
The team had flourished under his watch, qualifying for every major ICC tournament, and beating Test nations along the way. It was some act to follow for John Bracewell, the former New Zealand off-spinner, who in April was named as Ireland's fifth professional coach since 1995, with the stated goal of achieving Test status. Bracewell had to contend with the retirements of the long-serving Alex Cusack and John Mooney. But better news arrived just before Christmas, when Boyd Rankin announced he had given up hope of playing for England again and was returning to lead the bowling attack. Ireland's prospects at the 2016 World Twenty20 were given a further boost when Tim Murtagh, theMiddlesex seamer, reversed his decision to retire from the format.
The qualifying tournament, which Ireland co-hosted with Scotland in July, was the low point of 2015. Prior to the competition, Scotland won two Twenty20 games by six wickets, both at the new international venue of Bready in Northern Ireland. The defeats by Papua New Guinea and Hong Kong were Ireland's first against either nation in a competitive match and, though they managed to top their group and qualify for the World Twenty20, a semi-final loss to the Netherlands condemned them to third place, their lowest in an Associate tournament since 2010. It underlined how far Ireland had fallen in Twenty20 cricket. The batsmen, most of whom were returning from county duty, failed to adapt to their own, slow wickets; only captain William Porterfield and Paul Stirling scored fifties. To emphasise what Ireland will be missing, Mooney was the tournament's joint-leading wicket-taker with 14, and Cusack took ten.
The year had begun with victory in an ODI tri-series against Afghanistan and Scotland in the UAE. A month later, Ireland's victory over West Indies at Nelson meant they became the only team in the competition's history to chase down 300 or more on three occasions. But they were nearly beaten by the UAE in their next match, No. 10 George Dockrell hitting the winning runs with four balls to spare. The World Cup encapsulated Ireland's yo-yo year. Against South Africa they conceded more runs than ever before in a one-day international (411 for four), before making their highest ODI total (331 for eight), against Zimbabwe, who came within six runs of snatching victory.
India had it all their own way at Hamilton, and Ireland had to win their final group game at Adelaide to reach the quarter-finals. Despite a century from Porterfield, Pakistan coasted home. Nevertheless, two wins against Test opposition left a favourable impression. Ireland had an impact off the field as well, with senior players publicly criticising the ICC's decision to reduce the 2019 World Cup from 14 teams to ten.
Ireland did not escape the rain in 2015 - even a game at Dubai was washed out. Back home, a crowd in excess of 8,000 braved miserable weather for the biennial one-day international against England at Malahide, Porterfield's 200th match for his country overall. Only 18 overs were possible, and there was more rain in Belfast in August for the third visit in five years by Australia. Ed Joyce and Niall O'Brien had Ireland on target, but Glenn Maxwell removed both in successive overs as the world champions won by 23 runs.
In October, Ireland lost an ODI series in Zimbabwe 2-1, but the priority of the African trip was the subsequent Intercontinental Cup game against Namibia. The two-year competition offers a direct route to the top for Associate nations: in 2018 the winner will play a four-match series against the bottom-ranked Test side to determine whether they acquire Test status. Ireland thumped Namibia, having also beaten the UAE by an innings at Malahide in June to get Bracewell's reign off to a winning start. Joyce made double-hundreds in both matches, following up his 231 in Dublin - the highest by an Ireland player - with 205 at Windhoek, where Porterfield also made a career-best 186. Their stand of 326 was the country's second-highest for any wicket.
Ireland lost half their 24 completed matches across all three formats in 2015, and the fixture list is getting harder - as befits a team now officially recognised in the ODI rankings. In 2016 there will be a pair of two-match one-day series against Pakistan and Sri Lanka at Malahide, as well as ODIs against South Africa and Australia at Benoni in September.
Ireland Women enjoyed a successful year, despite three Twenty20 home defeats by Australia. In December, Isobel Joyce's side secured their place at the 2016 World Twenty20 after winning the qualifying event in Thailand, where they beat Bangladesh in the final. The Under-19s made it through to their 50-over World Cup in Bangladesh - but only after they were invited to replace Australia, who withdrew on safety grounds. Ireland had initially missed out after losing to Nepal in the final of the qualifying event. They also finished runners-up in the European Under-19 Championship, won by Scotland. At interprovincial level, the strong Leinster Lightning squad, captained for the last time by Mooney, finally completed a clean sweep of all three formats.
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