During Ireland’s ill-fated Lord’s Test against England, Ireland’s then all-format captain Andrew Balbirnie outlined some goals for the summer.
First was to qualify for the 2023 ODI World Cup in India. Second was to qualify for the 2024 T20 World Cup in the USA and West Indies.
And if they were bowled out for thirty in either innings of the England test having achieved berths for those two tournament then that would be fine.
Ireland would go on to miss out on the ODI World Cup. However securing qualification from the play-offs was always going to be tight given the competitiveness of all the teams and just two spots available.
After finishing seventh, this led to some soul searching leading into the European Regional T20 Qualifiers in Scotland not shortly after.
Cricket Ireland Performance Director Richard Holdsworth had already said there would be a review into both captain and coach. Andrew Balbirnie meanwhile resigned as white ball skipper as this particular ODI World Cup cycle came to a close.
This left them with much to consider. And new captain Paul Stirling to do it.
Perhaps the biggest worry was Ireland’s current place in world cricket. What happens if we stop qualifying for world tournaments. Can you fade from memory?
Ireland’s last ODI World Cup was in 2015. The next possibly in 2027. Better to focus on what’s right in front.
The task at the regional qualifiers was much easier than their mission improbable in Zimbabwe. Facing Scotland, Italy, Jersey, Germany, Denmark and Austria meant they had to secure second place at least.
You’ve plans, ground dimensions, wind direction, match-ups. But T20 cricket gives much less time to think or ponder. You react. Ireland strangely seemed to prosper with this, despite historically being a stronger ODI team.
There was an almost slip up in the first game. Italy came experienced. And mostly likely well drilled by assistant coach Kevin O’Brien.
A confident performance against a much fancied Jersey side showed what was possible.
Extra yards of pace from Barry McCarthy coming back from injury. Excellent variation from Adair, Josh Little doing Josh Little things having recovered from a toe niggle in Zimbabwe. Attacking wrist spin from Ben White.
Maybe it’s a group who don’t yet know their collective ceiling in the shortest format.
Then clarity from Ireland’s batters. Also from Stirling as captain. At several points he went for the aggressive option to take wickets to quiet down the runs.
Apart from the Italian game, the only real blip was the final clash against Scotland to decide top spot.
A chance to make their mark after Zimbabwe?
Ireland’s bowlers were guilty of bowling too short, and perhaps not enough changes of pace. But stopping Munsey, McMullen and Berrington at the Grange can feel like trying to stop an avalanche.
When chasing they couldn’t quite get the start needed, but an exceptional innings of 72 off 36 from Mark Adair reminded us of the incredible hitting which nearly got him a Lord’s test hundred.
They fell eight runs short. Possibly an opportunity missed to really make their mark.
With the ODI world cup no longer a concern, attention is fully on the next show piece event in 2024 as confirmed by men’s national selector Andrew White: “We currently have around 15 T20Is scheduled between now and the World Cup, so it is important that we use each of these to continue to build on areas that the coaching team have identified”.
And planning continues with India coming to Dublin for three games, thus providing Ireland a rare show piece event of its own in Malahide.
Irish cricket has plenty to worry about. But with T20 cricket on the horizon perhaps the men’s white ball side are enjoying the nuances of the shortest format right in front of them.
Ireland squad for the India T20I series: Paul Stirling (capt), Andrew Balbirnie, Mark Adair, Ross Adair, Curtis Campher, Gareth Delany, George Dockrell, Fionn Hand, Josh Little, Barry McCarthy, Harry Tector, Lorcan Tucker (wk), Theo van Woerkom, Ben White, Craig Young
In: Gareth Delany, Fionn Hand
Out: Neil Rock, Graham Hume
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