Ireland confident with world champions in their sights
The morning after Ireland dumped Bangladesh out of the World Twenty20 at Trent Bridge, the team had more reason to cheer with news that the injury Niall O'Brien sustained on Monday was less serious than feared.
O'Brien said he had heard a crack while going over on his ankle during the last over of Bangladesh's innings but no ligament damage was found when he was assessed on Tuesday. However, he had a grade one tear and, though the bruising and swelling reduced, he did not take part in Ireland's training session at Lady Bay. His participation in Wednesday's game against India isn't certain but, given that Ireland have already qualified for the second round, they can afford to rest one of their best players so that he's fit in time for their first Super Eight match against New Zealand on Thursday.
"We're not going to take any risks with him," Ireland's captain William Porterfield said. "But he's obviously going to want to play every game for Ireland and, playing in a World Cup, there's no bigger stage. I'm sure if he's fit enough he will [play]."
Porterfield said the players had got "a lot of texts and calls" after they beat Bangladesh by six wickets but despite celebrating their win at the Hilton in Nottingham, they were up for an early morning training session at 9.00 am. Their opponents on Wednesday are the world champions and they needed no motivation.
"We had a couple of drinks - it's good to celebrate your wins and your success - but now we've got a big game to focus on tomorrow," Porterfield said. "They're world champions, so there's no better team to pit yourself against. It will obviously give us a gauge of where we are and where we need to be in this format. All the pressure is on India. We're not thinking too far ahead of ourselves at the moment. But we believe, within the squad, that we can cause another potential upset."
Ireland have beaten Bangladesh, a Full Member country, in two high-profile matches now and have performed consistently better than the other nations in the ICC's high-performance program. In an interview to the Wisden Cricketer, Ireland's chief executive Warren Deutrom had questioned the point of Associate cricket, saying that Ireland were "head and shoulders above the rest of the associate nations" but were "bumping against a glass ceiling". The goal of attaining Full Member status is a distant one and achieving it is dependent on factors other than just the performance of the Ireland team. Porterfield, however, said the first step was to get more players on contracts.
"From Ireland's perspective, we've got to get more and more lads playing full-time cricket. That's key," Porterfield said. "We've got two lads now in Trent [Johnston] and Alex Cusack on full-time contracts. We've got to get more and more lads contracted back home and playing full-time cricket and better cricket against better opposition. That's the only way you're going to improve.
"The sooner Ireland get to the stage where we're contracting 10 or 15 players, the goal of being a Full Member won't be too far away. I think we've got a few more steps to go before we get to Test level. But it's something I know our board is working hard to achieve. If we keep putting in the performances, we hope it will not be too far away. We don't get the funding the Full Members receive, and obviously the board may feel that is a blow."
Stretching the richest cricket-playing country, if not beating them at Trent Bridge on Wednesday, as much as Ireland can would be a terrific stepping stone to that goal. Their players are also hopeful of a few IPL scouts watching.
George Binoy is a senior sub-editor at Cricinfo