When Ireland begin their ICC World T20 campaign against Oman on March 9, there may be just a handful of “Blarney Army” supporters in the 23,000-capacity cricket stadium in the Indian city of Dharamsala.
Ireland cricket fans haven’t lost faith in John Bracewell’s team, despite seeing them slip to 16th in the ICC T20 world rankings, below fellow associates Afghanistan, Scotland, the Netherlands, and Hong Kong, following a disappointing World Twenty20 Qualifier campaign on home soil last summer.
But the logistical nightmare of trying to organise flights, tickets, and visas has wearied and beaten even the most ardent supporter.
Ireland football fans worrying about securing Euro 2016 tickets in June should take note and count themselves lucky — Indian cricket’s governing body, the BCCI, published the ICC World Twenty 20 schedule in December but then failed to confirm the venues for a further two months, and only started ticket sales yesterday, 13 days before the start of the tournament.
The BCCI shambles means Ireland cricket supporters are not only missing out on an opportunity to visit one of the most beautiful sports grounds in the world, a multi-coloured, triple-towered confection in the foothills of the Himalayas, but a chance to see their team in a major world tournament for possibly the last time.
Ireland batsman Niall O’Brien, who has played in three World Cups and four World Twenty20s, says the ICC’s decision to limit the 2019 World Cup to 10 teams means qualification for the second round of this year’s World Twenty20 is “non-negotiable”.
Ireland face three first-round matches in five days against Oman, Bangladesh, and the Netherlands, with only the group winner progressing to the Super 10 stage and glamour fixtures against Pakistan, Australia, hosts India, and New Zealand.
“It’s imperative that we get out of the group. Anything less will be deemed a disappointing outcome for the team,” O’Brien, 34, told ESPNCricinfo.
“I’ve been fortunate this will be my eighth World Cup in the two different formats, but the next generation might not get those same privileges, so I think it’s important we do well not just for ourselves but for those young lads.”
Ireland struggled in the qualifying tournament on home soil last June, losing to Papua New Guinea, Hong Kong, and the Netherlands, but confidence has been boosted by the return of key bowlers Tim Murtagh and Boyd Rankin. Murtagh has reconsidered the decision he made last spring to retire from T20, while Rankin has opted to return to Ireland colours after falling out of favour with the England selectors.
With spin pair Andrew McBrine and George Dockrell, and pace bowler Craig Young also in the 15-man squad, Ireland finally look to have the right balance in their bowling attack.
“The way Boyd goes about his work, shows us the standard we have to reach,” Young said.
Ireland will need a big improvement in their batting if they are to qualify for the Super 10 stage. Teams routinely score 160 runs or more in the format, but Ireland average just 129 in ICC World Twenty matches, and they have never won a game where they have scored 135 or less.
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