Ireland’s T20 Rebuild and the Time Warp

The Irish Men's side are developing but also time travelling.

Paul Stirling of Ireland Shakes hands with Jasprit Bumrah of India

You know when you learn or pick up something by accident? That’s pretty handy, right. Well for Ireland that’s what seemed to happen during the T20 series against India.

But that probably takes credit from the excellent work Heinrich Malan has done in rebuilding this Irish T20 side. We’ll come back to that later.

It’s been nearly a year but it doesn’t feel like that. Ireland, a traditionally stronger ODI side, have been resetting their T20 game.

That culminated with some very strong performances in the T20 World Cup in Australia – most notably with a win over England.

But the green shoots were there to see before that. During the T20 series against India last year they pushed the visitors in the second match only to lose by four runs.

Some of the key elements include set roles and playing more aggressively. These two go especially hand in hand when you pick six batters to go with five out in out specialist bowlers to do their jobs in their sets.

From the outside you can sense the intent. Certainly different from the Ireland team that almost limped to defeat against Namibia in the first round of the 2021 T20 World Cup.

Where we’re going we don’t need all-rounders.

The South African ODI side of the late 1990s and early 2000s were stocked to the gills with all-rounders. Guys like Pat Symcox, Lance Klusener, Shaun Pollock, Nicky Boje, Mark Boucher (and why not throw in Jacques Kallis). Then Ireland took this genre to new and exciting places in the 2007 ODI World Cup and beyond.

Trent Johnston, Andre Botha, Kevin O’Brien, John Mooney, Andrew White, Alex Cusack, Nigel Jones. Even opening batter Kenneth Carroll would give you some left-arm wrist spin. Apologies to those missed. All all-rounders of varying abilities who could do a role or two or three with bat or ball.

It’s probably no surprise that Ireland’s initial rise in ODI cricket happened with a South African coach, Adrian Birrell. But when you’re an Associate cricket side, it makes sense having options. Hoping one bet comes off isn’t an option. Whereas multi-tooled cricketers that may pay off in different roles offers something more.

International cricket has also been changing. With India, Tendulkar, Sehwag, Ganguly, Raina could all be relied upon to bowl even when bat in hand was their elite skill. Rohit Sharma recently bemoaned the lack of batters who could bowl.

It’s a stark contrast to selecting utility cricketers that might be able to do a job, maybe while moonlighting for another for a game situation that might occur. It gives options. Ireland as an ODI side were kind of famous for this though. But almost out of nowhere Ireland seem to have two hard hitting elite level all rounders in Mark Adair and Barry McCarthy. Maybe this wasn’t part of the plan, maybe it was.

The home side were struggling in the first T20I. Even with India sending a younger, experimental team this was expected. Even though Ireland really pushed India this time last year at Malahide nearly chasing down 226, this was expected.

59-6 after being put in by the visitors this time round. Then confidence man McCarthy took matters into his own hands after crafting a partnership with Campher with a sublime 51 from 33.

Ireland got to an improbable 139 for 7. Then they nearly squeaked it on DLS.

Since coming back from injury McCarthy’s put on pace. He certainly impressed at the European Regional T20 qualifiers. And all of this seemed to have culminated with a remarkable innings.

It made us all think of Mark Adair’s hitting in the test match at Lords in June. We all knew Mark had batting talent. It was just a matter of when.

McCarthy similarly always had a certain something. A matter of when, and what would he and Irish management do with it.

In T20 cricket Ireland now have their six specialist batters, five specialist bowlers, with two of them as bowling allrounders? But they’re definitely not utility cricketers.

Back in 2008 when Paul Stirling made his debut, he could bat of course. But also a very handy bowler with an ODI career best of 6-55. Even if he doesn’t now.

George Dockrell made his debut in 2010 as a left arm spinner of course. But throughout age group cricket he could certainly bat. Then you’ve his height and the power game he’s added.

Andy McBrine, Jarrod Kimber’s pinch blocker, is almost your old school utility cricketer. He’ll bat in the top three in ODIs despite not quite being comfortable with the short ball. He’ll bag you a test match six-fer in Bangladesh with his always-at-you off-spin.

He’ll nearly get you a Test match hundred at Lord’s with some super elegant lefty cover drives. But he’s also been left out of Malan’s T20 plans. Leg spinner Ben White instead is preferred. He can rip it. He’ll get it through at decent pace.

But he’s not there to bat. And that speciality is being prized more in the shorter format currently by management.

McBrine of course has plenty of international cricket left in him. But Ireland’s T20 plans marks a change from what used to be a dead cert for getting you into every single Irish men’s squad.

Much of this will be out of sight out of mind as they go into a three match ODI series against England.

But Ireland are changing. In T20s they’re specialising. Briefly during the India series we saw the possibility of Barry McCarthy as a handy hard hitting allrounder and wicket taker to go with Mark Adair.

Things change but it also gave us a reminder of Ireland’s past. However with teams like England playing ODIs like T20s, will this Irish T20 rebuild eventually bleed into their fifty over game?

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