A fresh new challenge
Ireland have stretched the gap between themselves and the other Associate and Affiliate nations over the past two years, and their presence for the first time in the ICC World Twenty20 is just reward for their perseverance and talent. With a strong development programme from Under-13s, through the age groups, they are beginning to produce cricketers whose aspirations stretch beyond Ireland itself.
Eoin Morgan is the latest to hot-foot it over the water to England, and for all Ireland's genuine and impressive improvement in the last couple of years, they remain handicapped in losing their best talent to England. In addition, Ireland and Associates simply don't play enough international cricket against the leading nations to warrant too much optimism heading into this particular event. More prosaically, they have only played four Twenty20s, each of which were against Associate nations, three of which they won comfortably.
Their involvement in the Friends Provident Trophy in England is, on paper, very worth their while. But along with Morgan, who plays for Middlesex, Ireland also lose their best bowler (Boyd Rankin, to Warwickshire), their captain (William Porterfield, to Gloucestershire) and the O'Brien brothers (Nottinghamshire and Northamptonshire). A side shorn of experience and talent inevitably struggles against county sides, though they did stun Worcestershire who were rolled for a pathetic 58 last month.
The shorter the format, the greater the chance: that is often the misguided call for hope by Associate followers, and in one sense it is true. There is certainly a greater chance of Ireland causing an upset, and they possess plenty of accurate and nibbly seamers to keep things tight. Trent Johnston, their allrounder with an Australian lilt, is fiercely competitive and not to be underestimated, while Porterfield and the O'Briens can fight tooth and nail to the bitter end. But it is every bit as likely their richer opponents will speed to 50 in three overs or have Ireland chasing scores in excess of 200. As ever, this tournament is as much an exposure to the higher level (and intensity) of cricket for Associates, rather than a chance for glory, though Ireland remain bullishly confident and have Bangladesh in their sights. Whatever happens, they will not be overawed.
Accurate and (for the most part) tidy seam-bowling. They're a fit side and all fear and admire their coach, Phil Simmons, who remains as gym-fit as any coach in the game. They should hold their own as fielders, and while they have a number of attractive strokemakers, they will miss Morgan's inventiveness. Kevin O'Brien can hit the ball miles, though.
They simply lack experience. They will believe they can beat a Full Member nation, and even before the ICC World Cup Qualifiers were underway two months ago, they spoke confidently about felling Bangladesh. But as they showed against Australia, Bangladesh might be a weak bowling unit, but they will test Ireland to the limit and should still win.
They might keep losing some of their best players to the old enemy across the water but perhaps, for once, their experience in English conditions will give them a slight advantage over the tourists. Porterfield, the O'Brien brothers and Rankin all play county cricket and, as their determined display in South Africa showed, not to mention their defeat of Pakistan in the 2007 World Cup, Ireland will never be overawed by the occasion.
Boyd Rankin, their sky-scraping fast bowler, is a genuine talent and many in Ireland believe he'll be the next Irishman to don an England shirt. Whether Twenty20 will suit him is another matter, however. Porterfield has steel and maturity beyond his 24 years and offers stability and class, while Kevin and Niall O'Brien can both tonk the ball miles if it's in the slot.
T20 form guide
Ireland have played just four Twenty20 matches, winning three, though all four were against Associate nations.
Squad: William Porterfield (capt), Andre Botha, Jeremy Bray, Peter Connell, Alex Cusack, Trent Johnston, Kyle McCallan, John Mooney, Kevin O'Brien, Niall O'Brien, Boyd Rankin, Paul Stirling, Regan West, Andrew White, Gary Wilson
Will Luke is assistant editor of Cricinfo