World Twenty20 2010 April 27, 2010

Minnows no longer

Overview

When Ireland dumped Pakistan out of the 2007 World Cup it was a shock. When they followed that by making it past the group stages in last year's World Twenty20 their position as the strongest Associate nation seemed established. With a clutch of gritty competitors they were a well-honed outfit with dreams of Test status.

This time round things must be different. The price of their success is the expectation now that they must perform. It brings a pressure of its own that they have never experienced in a global tournament. Yet Ireland are grouped with England and West Indies - on paper at least, an easier prospect than South Africa and India, the teams facing the other qualifier, Afghanistan. With six Ireland players boasting county experience and fast-bowler Boyd Rankin returning from injury their good record in global tournaments might just be extended.

Twenty20 pedigree

Ireland's recent form has been patchy, losing 3-0 against a West Indies XI but their overall record is good. In last year's tournament in England, Ireland beat Bangladesh in their opening game at Trent Bridge and put in strong performances against Sri Lanka and eventual winners Pakistan.

Their path to this year's event was smooth, beating all but an emotionally-charged Afghanistan in Dubai as they progressed to the final with an injury-depleted squad. Though the usual names - Trent Johnston, Niall O'Brien, William Porterfield - were crucial, Ireland uncovered some young players with star potential. Spinners play a central role in Twenty20 cricket and 17-year-old left-arm spinner George Dockrell was pivotal in their semi-final win against Netherlands in the qualifiers.

Strengths and weaknesses

Ireland's instinctive competitiveness seems to add an extra dimension to their game and they are a well-drilled bunch, having been in the West Indies preparing for longer than any of the other sides. However the batting remains overly reliant on Niall O'Brien and the bowling resources look sparse if Rankin fails to find form immediately after a long lay-off.

Key men

Trent Johnston was captain on the heady St Patrick's Day win over Pakistan three years ago and despite passing on the reins to William Porterfield he remains the team's pivotal man. He was their joint leading wicket-taker in the qualifying tournament and has top-scored in Ireland's last four Twenty20 matches.

William Porterfield made his 100th appearance for Ireland during the recent series against West Indies XI, and as captain and opening batsmen he has a crucial role setting the tone. He frequently got starts in the qualifying tournament but failed to pass 35. Ireland will need more from him if they are to make it to the Super Eights.

X-factor

Lurking in the Ireland side are a couple of gifted youngsters who are unknown to most on the world stage. Paul Stirling already has a contract with Middlesex and unlike Eoin Morgan, who followed a similar route from Dublin to Lord's, has committed his future to Ireland. He is still raw but could bring dynamism previously missing from the top order.

Vital stats

  • Ireland chased down 292 to beat West Indies by six wickets in 2004 and on July 2, 1969 famously bowled their Group D opponents out for 25 in a match played in the village of Sion Mills.
  • Sahil Dutta is assistant editor of Cricinfo

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