After painfully falling short of qualifying for the ICC 2019 World Cup, a competition which holds the dubious honour of being the first 50 over World Cup without any associate sides, Ireland will be staking their claim to be one of the 6 sides to qualify for the 2020 T20 World Cup.
Ireland will be taking the rub of the green into the Qualifiers with them, having finished as runners up in the Pentangular Series in Oman – an impressive feat considering the youth-filled side traversed the gulf between Irish pitches and Oman’s, putting them in good stead for the grounds on offer in the UAE. Immediately prior to the Pentangular Series, Ireland were victorious in their home Tri-Series thanks to a thrilling final-ball win over a highly competitive Scottish side.
Their short-term form has been impressive – home-side Oman were the only team to beat Ireland in the Pentangular Series. Their longer-term form has been somewhat inconsistent in the weaker format of their limited overs game. In 2019, Ireland have won just 8 of the 15 T20 matches that they played. Despite this middling statistic, Ireland have beaten every opponent they’ve faced at least once, with the exception of the already qualified Afghanistan.
This somewhat spotty longer-term form is born, not of a lack of talent or poor strategy, but of Ireland’s forward-thinking approach to the make-up of their side. Where the bedrock of experienced greats have begun to depart, the last 18 months have seen the inclusion of young talents, produced largely from within Ireland’s burgeoning, high-quality domestic set up. Where international sides have had the tendency to persist with players in decline out of a fear of an upcoming global tournament, Ireland have sacrificed earlier bilateral results to begin this process 18 months prior to the Qualifiers. As a result, young players have had the opportunity to play under and learn from their predecessors, developing a cohesive unit well in advance of their opening match against Hong Kong on the 18th.
Ireland’s modus operandi is, by now, well-established. With the opening partnership of Paul Stirling and Kevin O’Brien, they have chosen a high-strike rate, big-hitting duo, both of whom have the maturity and experience to metre their approach to suit the bowlers/conditions faced. Andy Balbirnie has come into his own as a number 3 batsman over the last year, with his 2019 average registering a career best. Although skipper Gary Wilson has struggled for form with the bat, his experience and role as an innings anchor is vital, with his ability to inspire younger players and lead proving integral – it remains to be seen whether he will keep wicket or whether the think tank will find room in the XI for Lorcan Tucker, a young wicketkeeper-batsman whose game-play suits ODI cricket more so than T20, but whose situational awareness makes him a player to watch. Ireland Wolves skipper Harry Tector rounds out the middle order with consistency at an enviable strike rate. Ireland has followed the expected formula of big hitters in the lower batting order with Mark Adair, Shane Getkate, Stuart Thompson and Simi Singh. Of particular interest will be the role in which Gareth Delaney, Leinster Lightning opening batsman and T20 specialist, will be utilized – its hard to imagine two players less drop-worthy than Paul Stirling and Kevin O’Brien, so it’s possible Delaney will be employed as a situation-depending floating batsman.
On the bowling end of the scorecard, Ireland will be banking on their aggressive, probing opening bowler Mark Adair, seaming all-rounder Shane Getkate, short-ball connoisseur Boyd Rankin, the recently recalled Craig Young, the multi-format Stuart Thompson, and secret pace-weapon David Delaney. The pace options are rounded out by left-arm orthodox George Dockrell, off-spinners Simi Singh and Harry Tector, and Gareth Delaney’s legspin.
Ireland’s strengths come from their chosen T20 tactic – strong starts in the powerplay. However, the ‘go-hard-or-go-home’ approach to batting has seen collapses in the recent past, particularly where Gary Wilson’s form has been out of the norm. As such, Ireland’s middle to lower order has relied too heavily on big hitting at the death. Ireland’s bowling strengths include aggression, pace, short balls, and the inclusion of diverse spin options – in short, a generally well-balanced side, particularly taking into account the spin options required to do well in the UAE.
Players to watch are young Harry Tector, who, despite being only 19, has captained his side at every level of the game other than men’s international. Mark Adair’s insistent, energetic spells will likely see wickets up front, and if paired up with David Delaney, expect batsmen to struggle to survive the duo. Paul Stirling’s batting has made him an invaluable component, consistently giving Ireland a strong start in powerplays – he also has a wealth of experience in the UAE, having played the Afghanistan Premier League and T10. It seems almost redundant to include Kevin O’Brien, but in addition to his gameplay, recognition must be given to his off-field dressing room influence on a young side playing with a hero of the game.
Sitting at number 14 in the rankings, Ireland are behind only Scotland, the UAE and Nepal. As such, and considering the strength of their batting and bowling, they are (understandable) favorites amongst their group – but their relatively strong position within the cricketing world doesn’t mean we should expect to see complacency; Ireland are intimately aware of the minuscule difference between sides in T20 cricket, and having failed to qualify for a T20 WC since 2012, they won’t be resting on either laurels or clovers.
Ireland Squad: Gary Wilson (c), Mark Adair, Andy Balbirnie, David Delany, Gareth Delany, George Dockrell, Shane Getkate, Kevin O’Brien, Boyd Rankin, Simi Singh, Paul Stirling, Harry Tector, Stuart Thompson, Lorcan Tucker, Craig Young.