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Abhishek Purohit in Sylhet
March 18, 2014
The Irish seem to instantly ignite emotions in fans wherever they go. In the 2011 World Cup, they had Indians dancing and cheering for them after their historic upset of England in Bangalore. In the 2014 World T20, it took them one game to get thousands shouting "Ireland, Ireland" in Sylhet during their victory over another Full Member, Zimbabwe. They are the bosses of the Associate world, always among the neutral's favourites, the loveable underdogs. Imagine how many more converts they'll make if they get through to the Super 10, which will give them at least four games against the big guns.
For that to happen, they will need to come through UAE and Netherlands, opponents they are expected to beat. How will the tag of favourites sit with them? On paper, the amateurs of UAE should be no match for them. Ireland boast several players who have done years of hard yards on the English domestic circuit. They have one of the most exhilarating limited-overs batsmen in Paul Stirling, they have a classy young spinner in George Dockrell, they have a range of experienced seamers and batsmen led by a man who knows that when he speaks, he often does so on behalf of the lower rung of cricket. William Porterfield is conscious of the importance of his position, and he does not throw words around lightly.
Even Porterfield was moved enough to say "you never lose" when you need seven off two overs, something Ireland almost managed to do in their opener against Zimbabwe. It took a scrambled bye off the last ball to take them home. There should not have been any room for complacency against a Test nation, but it arguably seemed to have crept in towards the finish. Complacency could become an issue against UAE, but now that they have almost stalled at the finish line once, Ireland will be wiser.
UAE went down without much fight to Netherlands, a side they had beaten twice before. Heaven help them if they field and bowl like they did in their opening match. Their performances against Ireland and Zimbabwe will be significant pointers to where they stand at this level. They did show some spunk with the bat, recovering twice after losing quick wickets to Netherlands. Having already played under lights in Sylhet, they won't have to make the adjustments Ireland will need to.
Form guide (official T20s, including internationals)
Watch out for
It is the cricket world's loss that it does not get to, or does not want to, watch a lot of Ireland games. Because when he is in touch, Paul Stirling can provide as much entertainment as some of the leading lights of the shortest format. More often than not, it is his unwillingness to downshift that derails him, but often, he has inflicted so much damage so soon that the contest is all but over.
Kamran Shazad was one of the few positives for UAE against Netherlands, surprising batsmen with the deceptive pace and bounce he generated off a slow pitch. Both the wickets he picked up were off shortish deliveries that climbed too quickly for strokes to be timed. UAE will be in need of all the ammunition they can come up with.
Alex Cusack took a mighty hammering against Zimbabwe, going for 53 runs in four overs. Ireland have the option of bringing in the experienced Tim Murtagh. Young spinner Andy McBrine did a fine job on T20 debut and should partner Dockrell again.
Ireland (possible) 1 William Porterfield (capt), 2 Paul Stirling, 3 Ed Joyce, 4 Andrew Poynter, 5 Gary Wilson (wk), 6 Kevin O'Brien, 7 Stuart Thompson, 8 Max Sorensen, 9 Alex Cusack/Tim Murtagh, 10 George Dockrell, 11 Andy McBrine.
Left-arm spinner Shadeep Silva went for plenty against Netherlands. UAE have another slow left-armer in the squad in Ahmed Raza, who is their only option with some experience.
UAE (possible) 1 Amjad Ali, 2 Faizan Asif, 3 Khurram Khan (capt), 4 Swapnil Patil (wk), 5 Shaiman Anwar, 6 Rohan Mustafa, 7 Amjad Javed, 8 Vikrant Shetty, 9 Shadeep Silva, 10 Kamran Shazad, 11 Manjula Guruge
Pitch and conditions
Sylhet started out as a slow pitch on debut but became better and better for batting as afternoon turned to evening and the Netherlands openers found it came on nicely at night with some dew around. The toss will not be as important as Brendan Taylor felt it was for the afternoon match. The night will also bring pleasant weather amid the tea gardens that surround the stadium.
Stats and trivia
Ireland have beaten UAE in all four T20s the sides have played
Ed Joyce's strike-rate of 90.76 is the lowest for players who have scored at least 300 career T20 international runs. His team-mate Gary Wilson ranks second on that list.
"We know how dangerous UAE can be, especially in subcontinent conditions. We have played two games against them in the qualifiers and they were very good games. That is our next test."
"Yes, they are a good team, they have been playing very good cricket but in the end it is a do-or-die effort for us. You have to give it everything you have."
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Stats highlights from the fourth ODI between India and West Indies in Dharamsala