Ireland bid to give Birrell victorious send-off

IRELAND are determined to shake off the effects of an untimely virus to give coach Adrian Birrell the “send-off” he deserves for overseeing their surprisingly successful World Cup campaign.

The Irish conclude their Caribbean adventure with their last Super Eight match against Sri Lanka at Queen’s Park today — and captain Trent Johnston is preparing his team for a performance to make Birrell proud.

The South African coach will be in charge for his last Ireland match, safe in the knowledge that their victory over Bangladesh on Sunday – as well as a famous group success against Pakistan — has won them the honour of being included in the International Cricket Council’s one-day rankings.

Johnston is hugely grateful for all the 46-year-old has done for Irish cricket — and sees tomorrow as another opportunity to show it. “It’s this bloke’s last game, so we’re going to give him one hell of a send-off,” promised the Australia-born pace-bowling all-rounder.

As for the specifics of Ireland’s plan against Sri Lanka, a team already in possession of a semi-final place, the orders are simple — “play like we did against Bangladesh”.

“We’ll just go out there, as we’ve said all during the tournament, and try to play the best game we can,” Johnston vowed.

“If we can do exactly the same as we did against Bangladesh at the weekend we’ll be absolutely delighted. I think that’s the best one-day performance we’ve put together, in all three disciplines.

“We’ve been strong in two of the three areas right throughout the tournament but not put all three together until Bangladesh.

“That’s our goal, and if we can reproduce that we are going to be competitive.”

Ireland would love to select an unchanged team but may not be able to, because of illness among some of the squad.

“There’s a bit of a virus going around in the camp, and I know a few of the boys are struggling,” Johnston confirmed.

However well they are able to perform in their last hurrah, though, Ireland have many proud memories of the past month.

“There have been a lot of high points — the way we fought back (in a tied match) against Zimbabwe to get us going, and then obviously Pakistan was huge on St Patrick’s Day,” Johnston said.

It has been a long haul too for a largely amateur team who left Ireland — initially for South Africa — more than three months ago to begin their cup preparations.

“We’ve been away from home since January 7, and it’s been a massive four months for us,” added Johnston.

“A few of the guys are looking forward to getting home to a bit of reality.”

Before then, they know they must take on one of the cup’s likeliest winners — although after the understrength team Sri Lanka put out in Monday’s defeat by favourites Australia, the waters have been muddied a little.

“I hope they field their strongest team,” said Johnston. “We won’t worry about it – we’ve just got to get out there and do our job.

“Every other team we’ve played against have put their full-strength side against us – which is a credit to the way we’ve played our cricket in this tournament.

“We’ll just do our very best to be competitive.”

The indications from inside the Sri Lanka camp are entirely equivocal — captain Mahela Jayawardene making no promises either way whether Lasith Malinga may be back from his ankle injury or his fellow key bowlers Muttiah Muralitharan and Chaminda Vaas will return after being rested against the Australians.

“If they want to have a go at Ireland — maybe it won’t be that tough a game — they can easily come back,” he said.

“But if they feel they need another break we will give them one. We need them 100% going into the semi-finals.”

Jayawardene insists, however, his team have a healthy respect for Ireland.

“Ireland are a very strong side — you can’t take any of these teams lightly,” he said.

“Bangladesh and Ireland have been upsetting a lot of the big names in the tournament.”

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