‘Best Team in Europe’ proudly proclaimed Irish banners at Hamilton, revelling in England’s first-round exit from the World Cup.
But even as they mocked England, Ireland had further reason to resent them.
As much as Eoin Morgan, England’s beleaguered ODI skipper, would be a wonderful addition to Ireland’s XI, the pace and bounce of Boyd Rankin — especially with Tim Murtagh ruled out of the World Cup through injury — is even more greatly missed.
Ireland did not need to endure an emphatic Indian batting performance to make the point but they got it anyway, as India, cruised to their target of 260 with contemptuous ease. It was hard to argue with Niall O’Brien’s assessment that 300 “would probably have been 150 short the way India batted.”
With every game, the decision to ignore Craig Young and Peter Chase seems all the more perplexing. For sure, neither would be a panacea to Ireland’s bowling problems. But nothing would have been lost giving one or both an opportunity against India, a game that Ireland were never likely to win in.
With the inclusion of Stuart Thompson in place of Andy McBrine, Ireland revealed their strategy to India: if three 75mph right-arm bowlers don’t get you, a fourth one will. The result was predictably ignominious.
After an egregious start — 18 runs, including three sets of wides and a couple of long-hops — from his opening over, Thompson actually responded gamely to take the only two Indian wickets. Yet that could not disguise the utter lack of variety in Ireland’s attack.
“We don’t have lads at the minute coming in bowling 90 clicks, which a lot of sides do. The lads have great skills, and we’ve come up on a very flat wicket,” William Porterfield said. “Thompson bowled very well, and he’s done very well in every session we’ve had.
Whatever happens against Pakistan, developing the next batch of pace bowlers should underpin Ireland’s strategy in the coming years.
If Young and Chase do not progress, the implications for Ireland will be grave: no qualification for Test status in 2018, and — unless the egregious 10-team World Cup format is overturned — no World Cup in 2019 either.
Having refrained from blooding Young and Chase, Ireland are now left to muddle on with their battery of identikit medium-pacers. As far as the batting has developed — which now looks stronger than ever — Ireland’s attack is not only less threatening than 2011, but less potent than 2007 too.
Pakistan could be the latest team to make hay against Ireland on Sunday. At least a slow wicket at Adelaide should allow Ireland to play two spinners, probably recalling McBrine at the expense of Thompson. But the nub is that, for all fears about Ireland’s bowling attack before the tournament began, the reality has been more gruesome than anyone envisaged.
Some have even taken to calling Ireland the very worst bowling attack of the 14 teams in the Cricket World Cup. Ireland certainly seem to have the most unbalanced side in the tournament, with the batting having so far exceeded stiff expectations.
Perhaps nothing spoke of how far Irish cricket has come as the dejection that followed Ireland’s innings — even though Ireland had hit 259 against the world champions, more than anyone else this tournament and 82 more than South Africa managed.
With Niall O’Brien, who played sumptuously for his 75, and Andy Balbirnie adding 61 in 7.4 overs as Ireland reached 206-3 in the 39th over, Ireland had legitimate designs on reaching 330. A catalogue of injudicious shots instead saw the innings peter out to 259 all out.
In a sense, the ambition of Ireland’s batsmen could hardly be faulted: they knew that their bowlers would have to defend the target on a flat pitch against India’s imperious line-up. It would not have been a comforting thought.
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