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Feature

Exhaustion, relief, joy - when Ireland couldn't afford to lose, and didn't

"There was a lot of pressure, but that's why you play these games - it's for these kinds of moments," says Dockrell

Firdose Moonda
Firdose Moonda
19-Oct-2022
Curtis Campher was the toast of the travelling Irish supporters  •  ICC via Getty

Curtis Campher was the toast of the travelling Irish supporters  •  ICC via Getty

If you need to know how much staying alive at the men's T20 World Cup means to Ireland, the tears will tell you. They were dabbed from the cheeks of the sizeable number of Irish fans who made the trip to Hobart, including George Dockrell's parents, sister and girlfriend, and flowed from the eyes of match-winner Curtis Campher, who scored his highest score in any format of representative cricket and dedicated the innings of 72* from 32 balls to his family.
In the immediate aftermath of completing the chase, Campher revealed that he had received some bad news in the last week and the outpouring of emotion was a result of that. It was also what motivated him when he batted, with the bulk of his runs scored in an unbeaten 119-run stand with Dockrell, which ensured Ireland remained in contention for the Super 12s.
"Curtis' knock today under that pressure - when you know what's going to happen if you have to lose the game - was fantastic," Dockrell said afterwards.
What was going to happen was that if Ireland had lost a second Group B match? Any possible progression to the Super 12s would have been taken out of their hands. Not only would they have had to beat West Indies in their third game, they would also have had to hope for other results to go their way. By extension, Ireland would have exited from a second successive World Cup in the first round and crashed to a 13th defeat in 20 T20 World Cup matches.
It's not a record they are proud of. "We've spoken about how we've wanted to play better at T20 World Cups," Dockrell said. "In ODI cricket, we've had some success over the last while, but in T20s, we have probably underperformed. We're aware of that as a group."
And equally aware of who they would have lost to: Scotland, who are also in the running for a Super 12 spot and have already overturned one of the first-round favourites, West Indies.
"It's something I really enjoy when there are those fields set and you know how many runs you need as opposed to just playing the ball on its merit. It's probably more the game theory side of things"
George Dockrell on being Ireland's finisher
Much like Zimbabwe in Africa, Ireland are Europe's "other" Full Member and just as Zimbabwe feel especially chastened when they are bested by Namibia, Ireland do not want to be embarrassed by Scotland [or Netherlands], perhaps because they know they shouldn't be.
Of the European teams in the first round, Ireland have the most opportunity and resources. Consider, for example, that between the last T20 World Cup and this one, they have played 22 T20Is, won nine and lost 13, while in the same period, Scotland have played just two and Netherlands seven. But, Ireland's T20 World Cup record [five wins in 20 appearances] is not as good as Scotland's [five wins in 17] or Netherlands' [seven wins in 17], and while some of that is due to them playing bigger teams in earlier editions of the tournament which did not have an opening round, they have also lost to the likes of Oman in 2016 and Namibia in 2021.
Therefore, another defeat to an Associate nation was not an option on Wednesday.
"There was a lot of pressure," Dockrell acknowledged. "But that's why you play these games. It's for these kinds of moments."
Dockrell's time to shine came with Ireland in trouble on 61 for 4 in the tenth over. Paul Stirling had failed upfront, continuing a disappointing run at major tournaments - he averages 18.84 in T20 World Cups. Harry Tector had not come off either, raising further questions about when he would translate his stunning ODI form to the shortest format. Campher had only faced two balls and the win predictor showed 91% for Scotland. As though none of that was happening, Dockrell square drove the fourth ball he faced for four and then pulled the tenth to midwicket for six. He played a supporting role to Campher from there on, but his 39* off 27 balls further underlined his ability as a finisher.
In 2022, Dockrell's strike rate in 14 T20I innings is above 200, and the finisher's role is one he has embraced for its intellectual nature.
"I feel that's quite an exciting part of the game. It's something I really enjoy when there are those fields set and you know how many runs you need as opposed to just playing the ball on its merit. It's probably more the game theory side of things," he explained. "A lot of what I do now is trying to think of scenarios and work out what those options are. I'm not great at nets if it's just bat versus ball but if someone gives me a scenario I quite enjoy, that little battle where I am trying to manipulate the field and win that moment in the game, and try to work out when you can anticipate what's coming."
In this match, Dockrell focused on taking on the slower deliveries and working the ball around on a sizeable ground. "He (Campher) slog sweeps well and has some brilliant reverses and ramps. I look to hit straight," he said.
Campher also interpreted the plan the same way. "The way he hits the ball straight is amazing. He's really one of the better guys I've played with at that skill. And I'm very different - I've got lots of square scoops and sweeps and stuff like that, so it kind of just really fed off each other," Campher said. "With the ground dimensions it kind of suits me with the smaller square boundaries - I can manipulate the field that way. Having George to talk through the processes and matchups and plans worked really well."
Dockrell was the one who encouraged Campher to remember that as hard as they could hit, they also had to run. "We also spoke about the square and the dimensions, it's so long and straight. If those fielders are a little bit wider, it gives you space for twos. We took as many twos and threes as we could get."
Between them, they completed 11 twos and six threes and both looked exhausted at the end. Exhausted, but relieved and in Dockrell's case, ecstatic that his career was coming full circle.
He debuted as a left-arm spinner who batted at No. 11 and is now a middle-order batter and senior statesman in the team. "In the last six months to a year, my career has been the most rewarding of anything I've ever done. With the left-arm spin, I came in and I was bowling overs straightaway and now, I feel like I had to work a little bit harder to get this batting role," he said. "I am absolutely loving it. It's a really exciting team to be part of. I am delighted I'm in situations like that and myself and Curtis can bring a game home just like that."
There were tears, definitely, but most of them were tears of joy.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent