IN FOCUS – Seven years on, another must-win game on St. Patrick’s Day

  St. Patrick’s Day holds great significance in the delightful story of Ireland’s spirited surge to the top of the Associate ladder. Back in 2007, the Irish team, a bunch of amateurs led by Trent Johnston, arrived at Sabina Park at Kingston, Jamaica to contest in the World Cup for the first time. In their very first game, they held Zimbabwe to a thrilling tie to make an immediate impact.

  Two days later – on St. Patrick’s Day – they took on Pakistan at the same venue on a green-top, knowing that in case they won, a place in the Super Eights beckoned. In a performance which completely changed the cricket scene in Ireland, Johnston’s underdogs shocked the 1992 champions by three wickets, sending the passionate Irish crowd in the stands into delirium. It was a Paddy’s day to remember for all those lucky enough to watch it live, and a sea of green witnessed the Irishmen take an ecstatic lap of honour. With this win, Ireland defied all odds to qualify for the next stage. This day sowed the seeds of a cricketing renaissance in the country, and today the fruits are there for everyone to see.

z0006e642-642   The Irish team takes a lap of honour in front of their fans at Sabina Park after beating Pakistan on St. Patrick’s Day in the 2007 World Cup (source – rte.ie)

  Seven years on, Ireland are slated to play yet another crucial international game on St. Patrick’s Day – against Zimbabwe in the opening game of the qualifying round of the 2014 ICC World Twenty20 at Sylhet in Bangladesh. Ireland have been placed in Group B along with Zimbabwe, the UAE and the Netherlands, and only one team from this group will proceed into the tournament proper, also known as the ‘Super 10’ stage.

  The clash against Zimbabwe assumes the most importance for Ireland, since the African nation is the only full-member and the biggest threat in the group. This is not to say that the UAE and the Netherlands can be rolled over easily – in this fickle format nothing can really be predicted. But in all probability, the Ireland v Zimbabwe game will be the do-or-die encounter for both sides, with the winner most likely to clinch a berth in the tournament proper.

A lot has changed since St. Patrick’s Day 2007. The side is now fully professional, and the fans have high expectations from them. Losing to Zimbabwe will be seen as an out-and-out disappointment, while a victory will be seen as merely routine. After all, Ireland are marching towards the holy grail of Test status and hence have to set higher ambitions for themselves. To further strengthen their case, regular victories against full members is the only way ahead.

  A case in point was the recent two-match T20 series against the West Indies in Jamaica. Ireland won the first game but there was hardly any animated jubilation, just pats and handshakes. They lost the second game and it was seen as an opportunity to secure an overseas series win squandered rather than a satisfactory drawn result. Assuming they win, Ireland will face Sri Lanka, South Africa, New Zealand and England in the main round. Given the sheer lack of fixtures against top teams, this should serve as enough motivation for the Irishmen to put it across Zimbabwe and provide their fans another memorable St. Patrick’s Day.

  Ireland’s form in the warm-up games has been pretty patchy. They lost to Worcestershire and Hong Kong before defeating Nepal by 5 wickets. But in their last warm-up against hosts Bangladesh, they were soundly beaten by 44 runs. The form of the batsmen has been a cause for concern ever since the Caribbean tour began in late January. The bowlers have performed much better of late and to avoid an early elimination from the tournament, they will need the batsmen to start firing and back them up with concrete performances.

z71929326_pg15   Ireland did not lose even once in the World T20 Qualifiers in 2013. They will also have to stay unbeaten in the qualifying stage of the World T2o to make the main round (source – bbc.co.uk)

  The opening partnership of captain William Porterfield and the swashbuckling Paul Stirling have not shown the spark that was so prominent during the victorious World T20 Qualifiers campaign in the UAE in November last year, and at least one of them has to deliver a confident start at the top. Ed Joyce remains the lynch-pin of the batting, but he needs further support from the likes of Gary Wilson, Kevin O’Brien and Niall O’Brien. Andrew Poynter looks to be a nice prospect, and whether he gets into the eleven remains to be seen.

  Spin will most likely play a massive role on the dry Bangladeshi tracks, and the promise shown by young off-spinner Andy McBrine augurs well for the Irishmen. The team management would do well to include him in place of one of the pace bowlers in the starting eleven, and his partnership with George Dockrell and Paul Stirling will be the key to Ireland’s chances of restricting the opposition to a chaseable total. Another bright talent is Stuart Thompson, who provides a real all-round option to the team.

  Zimbabwe are a team that can never be taken lightly. Even though they are constantly mired in wage issues and off-field politics, they can be a real handful on their day. They bounced back from a defeat to Hong Kong to beat Afghanistan in the warm-ups. Even if the Zimbabwe hurdle is crossed, the UAE and the Netherlands pose challenges of their own. While the UAE will find the conditions to their liking, the Netherlands still have it in them to upset the apple-cart in the T20 format, their recent poor form notwithstanding.

  As Porterfield mentioned, Ireland will have to take one game at a time. There would be no point in thinking of the second round at this moment. Three must-win games in five days in a highly unpredictable format will no doubt be an exciting challenge for the Irishmen, and success will go a long way in generating further interest in the fastest-growing sport in the country. A victory or two against a full member will also hold them in good stead ahead of the bigger occasion, namely the 2015 ICC World Cup.

  In the previous two editions of the world T20, Ireland had been robbed of the chance to get into the next round by rain in their matches against England in 2010 and West Indies in 2012. Incidentally, both these teams went on to become champions in the respective years. Luck of the Irish, one may say. Here’s hoping that the luck does not elude the boys in green tomorrow and that they go far ahead in the tournament.

Wishing everyone a happy St. Patrick’s Day.

Specials – Ireland’s best T20 wins

  Even though T20 is a fickle format and much dependent on luck, the forthcoming T20 World Cup in Bangladesh is as important a tournament as any for the six Associates who will have to undergo qualifying in order to reach the main round.

  For Ireland, this tournament assumes even more importance as they aim to attain more international fixtures against top opposition. The Irish get to play very few games against Test sides and provided they top a group also including Zimbabwe, the UAE and the Netherlands; they have a chance to take on Sri Lanka, South Africa, England and New Zealand in the tournament proper.

  Till date Ireland have played 34 T20 internationals since 2008, winning 18 and losing 13. As Ireland’s opening game against Zimbabawe on St. Patrick’s Day draws near, let us look at five of Ireland’s best Twenty20 wins, in chronological order: –

1) Beat Bangladesh by 6 wickets, Nottingham 2009

  After missing out on the inaugural edition in 2007,  Ireland qualified for the second T20 World Cup in England in 2009. Clubbed with India and Bangladesh in the group stage, Ireland’s only chance to progress to the Super 8 was by beating the latter.

  In a do-or-die clash at Trent Bridge, Ireland scored a six-wicket win in their very first T20I against a full member. William Porterfield put in Bangladesh and the Irish took wickets at regular intervals and never really allowed the Tigers to consolidate. The score was 66/5 in the eleventh over and then 94/7 in the 17th, before Mashrafe Mortaza (33*) clouted a few to take the total up to 137/8. Former captain Trent Johnston starred by ejecting the first three wickets for only 20 runs.

zir3   Kevin O’Brien and John Mooney celebrate after Ireland beat Bangladesh by 6 wickets in the 2009 World T20 at Trent Bridge (source – worldoft20.blogspot.com)

  Ireland lost Jeremy Bray with only six runs on the board, but Porterfield and Niall O’Brien combined for a breezy 55-run second wicket stand. O’Brien made a vital 40 off 25 balls (3×4, 3×6). Bangladesh fought back to reduce Ireland to 89/4 in 14.3 overs, the match hanging in balance.

  However, out came Kevin O’Brien at that stage and clubbed 39 from just 15 balls (4×4, 2×6) to stun the Bangladeshis. He put on an unbroken 49 with John Mooney in only four overs and struck the winning boundary off Rubel Hossain to help Ireland reach 138/4 in 18.2 overs and thus seal a spot in the next round. Niall O’Brien was named man of the match.

2) Beat Kenya by 10 wickets, Dubai 2011-12

  Ireland recovered from their upset opening defeat to Namibia in the 2012 World T20 Qualifiers in ruthless fashion, thumping Kenya by  ten wickets at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium. Boyd Rankin (3/20) reduced Kenya to 13/3 in the third over itself, which later became 39/6. Except for Tanmay Mishra (28), no one managed double fugures as Kenya were shot out for 71 in 19 overs, the last four wickets falling for just seven runs. Alex Cusack, John Mooney and George Dockrell all chipped in with two wickets each.

  Captain William Porterfield was in blazing form in reply, as he blasted an unbeaten 56 from only 27 balls (8×4, 2×6). He added an unbroken 72 in just 7.2 overs with fellow opener Paul Stirling to inflict a massive defeat on the African nation. Ireland won all their following games  and went on to win the tournament by beating fellow qualifiers Afghanistan in the final. In terms of balls remaining (76), this is the biggest margin of victory in all T20 internationals.

3) Beat Afghanistan by 5 wickets, Dubai 2011-12

  Ireland, who had lost the 2010 Qualifiers final to Afghanistan, beat the same opponents two years later at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium to win the title. Batting first, Afghanistan’s total of 152/7 was built around wicketkeeper Mohammed Shahzad’s 77 off 57 balls (7×4, 2×6) from number three. No one else crossed 17. He was the seventh wicket to fall in the 19th over, rescuing his side from 27/2. Max Sorensen and Kevin O’Brien bagged two wickets apiece, with the latter going for just 4.5 runs an over.

  Dawlat Zadran castled captain William Porterfield off the very first ball of the chase. But at the other end, Paul Stirling was in brutal form. He smashed 79 off 38 balls (9×4, 3×6) and added 80 for the third wicket with Gary Wilson (32). Zadran (3/21) came back to dismiss Stirling and K. O’Brien in successive balls, but Wilson and Andrew Poynter averted further hiccups. Ireland reached 156/5, winning with seven balls to spare.

4) Beat Afghanistan by 68 runs, Abu Dhabi 2013-14

  Ireland were unbeaten throughout the 2014 World T20 Qualifiers and reserved their blistering best for the final against familar foes Afghanistan. William Porterfield called correctly at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium and his team never looked back. Along with Paul Stirling, he shared a rollicking opening stand of 68 in just 5.3 overs to set the tone.

  Stirling, who smashed 76 in 43 balls (8×4, 4×6) then added a further 64 in 5.2 overs for the fourth wicket with the evergreen Trent Johnston, who was playing his last international for Ireland. ‘TJ’ helped himself to a cracking 32-ball 62 (5×4, 4×6) as the final total ballooned to a mammoth 225/7 – easily Ireland’s highest and the fourth-highest in all T20Is. Hamza Hotak (3/39) was the pick of the Afghan bowlers.

  Afghanistan too seemed to be hitting out from ball one itself, but regular wickets dented their chase. They reached 76 in just seven overs, but for the loss of four wickets. Johnston made his swansong even sweeter, claiming 3/34 to hasten Afghanistan’s end.

  Tim Murtagh, Alex Cusack and George Dockrell took wickets each as Afghanistan folded for 157 in 18.5 overs. The top-scorer was Gulbadin Naib with 43 in 19 balls (3×4, 4×6). Not suprisingly, Johnston was named man of the match. It was a commendable feat for Ireland to remain unbeaten throughout the entire tournament.

5) Beat West Indies by 6 wickets, Kingston 2013-14

zed-joyce-leaves-the-field-after-victory-1922014-390x285   Ed Joyce leaves the field after guiding Ireland to a convincing six-wicket win over the West Indies at Kingston in February 2014 (source – thescore.ie)

  This has to be Ireland’s best T20 win till date, since it came against a top team – in fact the defending World T20 champions – in their own backyard of Sabina Park, which was incidentally the scene of Ireland’s famous ODI win over Pakistan in the 2007 World Cup.

  After the West Indies elected to bat, none of the batsmen were able to stay on the crease for long enough to lay a solid base. Alex Cusack (2/17), Kevin O’Brien (2/17) and Tim Murtagh (2/28) all played a role as no batsmen crossed even 20, Chris Gayle’s 18 being the highest. The eventual total was 116/8, which could have been tricky to chase on the dead track.

  Ireland knew they were not going to have it easy when openers William Porterfield and Paul Stirling were both dismissed early to make the score 8/2 in the second over, which later became 37/3. But the reliable Ed Joyce, batting at number three, was looking confident and he found a willing ally in Andrew Poynter (32 off 30, 6×4). The two added a game-changing 58 in 9.1 overs for the fourth wicket to soothe Irish nerves. When Poynter got out, the required equation was a comfortable 23 off 25 balls.

  Joyce, later named man of the match, remained unbeaten on 40 (49 balls, 2×4) while Kevin O’Brien scored the winning couple of runs off Ravi Rampaul to help Ireland reach 117/4 in 19.1 overs. This was the first of a two-match series, and the hosts made things even with an 11-run win in the second game.

SPECIALS – Asia Cup finals over the years

  The final of the twelfth edition of the Asia Cup is slated to be played on 8th March between Pakistan and Sri Lanka at Dhaka. Let us look back on the previous finals of the continental ODI tournament.

1983-84 – No final was played. India won the inaugural tournament on account of beating both Sri Lanka (by 10 wickets) and Pakistan (by 54 runs) in a single round-robin format in Sharjah.

1985-86 – Sri Lanka beat Pakistan by 5 wickets at Colombo (SSC)

  Sri Lanka made the most of holders India’s absence from the tournament by clinching the title with a win over Pakistan at the Sinhalese Sports Club. In a 45 over game, Pakistan were restricted to 191/9 after Duleep Mendis elected to field. Pakistan endured a disastrous start – they were 32/4 – before Javed Miandad staged a fightback with 67, adding 65 for the 6th wicket with Manzoor Elahi. Little-known pacer Kaushik Amalean took 4/46. Sri Lanka were 64/3 in reply but Aravinda de Silva (52) and Arjuna Ranatunga (57) sealed the deal with a 97-run fourth wicket stand. Though both were dismissed, Sri Lanka reached 195/5 in 42.2 overs. Abdul Qadir took 3/32.

1988-89 – India beat Sri Lanka by 6 wickets at Dhaka

  India won their second title after a comprehensive win in the final at the Bangabandhu Stadium. Being put into bat, defending champions Sri Lanka were bowled out for only 176 in 43.2 overs in spite of a 53-run opening stand. No one got a substantial score, with Duleep Mendis’ 36 being the highest. Kris Srikkanth’s part-time off-spin fetched him 3/12. India got off to a brisk start, and their innings was built around an 84-run third wicket stand between Navjot Sidhu (76) and captain Dilip Vengsarkar (50*). Kapil Dev brought up the winning runs with a boundary as India reached 180/4 in 37.1 overs.

1990-91 – India beat Sri Lanka by 7 wickets at Calcutta

Kapil-Dev   Kapil Dev’s hat-trick in the 1991 Asia Cup final at Eden Gardens helped India to an easy win over Sri Lanka and their third title (source – deccanchronicle.com)

  India hosted the tournament for the first time, and this time it was Pakistan who pulled out of it due to political reasons. With yet another facile win over Sri Lanka in the final, India secured their third title. In a game reduced to 45 overs, Mohammed Azharuddin decided to field. Disciplined bowling and fielding by the hosts saw Sri Lanka reach 92/3 before a 58-run partnership for the fourth wicket between Asanka Gurusinha and Arjuna Ranatunga (who top-scored with 49) steadied things. 

  But Kapil Dev (4/31) wrecked the middle and lower order as Sri Lanka went from 175/4 to 181/8, eventually ending at 204/9. Kapil took a hat-trick, dismissing Roshan Mahanama, Sanath Jayasuriya and Rumesh Ratnayake off successive balls. In reply, India slipped to 30/2, but Sanjay Manjrekar’s 75* and his stands of 91 and 84* with Sachin Tendulkar (53) and Azharuddin (54*) for the third and fourth wicket respectively ensured India reached 205/3 with 17 balls to spare.

1994-95 – India beat Sri Lanka by 8 wickets at Sharjah

  The tournament returned to Sharjah but the pattern of the final was very much similar to the previous two editions. India completed a hat-trick of titles by swamping Sri Lanka by 8 wickets, after again electing to field. The Lankans were never really allowed to score freely and were kept to 230/7 off their 50 overs. Asanka Gurusinha top-scored with a solid 85, rescuing his side from a wobbly 89/4. Venkatesh Prasad and Anil Kumble took two wickets each.

  The Indian openers fell early to make the score 58/2, but not before Sachin Tendulkar had laid the platform with a run-a-ball 41. There was to be no further success for Sri Lanka, as Navjot Sidhu (84*) and captain Mohammed Azharuddin (90*) put on an unbeaten association of 175 for the third wicket to guide India to 233/2 in just 41.5 overs and yet another easy Asia Cup victory.

1997 – Sri Lanka beat India by 8 wickets at Colombo (RPS)

  Sri Lanka took full advantage of home conditions to turn the tables on holders India in the final at the Premadasa Stadium and record their second Asia Cup title. Indian skipper Sachin Tendulkar elected to bat first, but soon his side were in trouble at 59/3 with the top three back in the hut. Tendulkar (53) and Mohammed Azharuddin (81) then revived the innings with a fourth-wicket partnership of 109, with the latter putting on a further 47 with Ajay Jadeja for the fifth wicket to give some much-needed impetus.

  The  eventual total was a competitive 239/7, Chaminda Vaas and Kumar Dharamsena taking two wickets apiece. The Sri Lankan opening pair of Sanath Jayasuriya and Marvan Atapattu then went hell for leather, adding 137 to shut out the Indians. Jayasuriya smashed 63 off only 52 balls. Captain Arjuna Ranatunga (62*) then hastened the win by adding an unbroken 96 for the third wicket with Atapattu, who stayed unbeaten on 84. Sri Lanka scored 240/2 in just 36.5 overs.

2000 – Pakistan beat Sri Lanka by 39 runs at Dhaka

  The tournament returned to the Bangabandhu Stadium and Pakistan recorded their maiden triumph. Opener Saeed Anwar guided Pakistan with a sedate 82 after their captain Moin Khan elected to bat. Anwar shared a 68-run stand with Yousuf Youhana for the third wicket. When he got out, Sri Lanka had kept things pretty tight – the score was 173/4 in the 40th over. At that point, Moin joined Inzamam ul-Haq at the crease and the duo proceeded to bludgeon the bowlers. ‘Inzy’ made 72* off 88 balls while Moin clobbered 52* off just 31 balls as they put on an unbroken 104 for the fifth wicket in ten overs to help their side reach 277/4.

  Sri Lanka stumbled to 46/3 in reply before Marvan Atapattu and Aravinda de Silva added 71 for the fourth wicket. Atapattu and Russel Arnold (41) then added 79 for the 5th wicket to give their side a chance. However the last five wickets fell for only 42, Atapattu being seventh out for an in-vain 100. Sri Lanka were bowled out for 238 in 45.2 overs. Wasim Akram, Mohammed Akram and Arshad Khan all picked up two wickets.

2004 – Sri Lanka beat India by 25 runs at Colombo (RPS)

  Sri Lanka regained the trophy with their third title, again coming at home with a win over India in the final at the Premadasa Stadium. Sri Lanka slipped to 31/2 after deciding to bat before captain Marvan Atapattu and wicketkeeper Kumar Sangakkara stitched together a third-wicket stand of 116. India bowled with discipline even though 32 extras were conceded, and and regular wickets in the last 15 overs made sure that the hosts could not up the run-rate.

  Sri Lanka ended up at 228/9 (Irfan Pathan and Sachin Tendulkar both took two wickets), though they would have had liked at least twenty runs more.But the Sri Lankan bowlers rose to the occasion and hardly allowed the Indians to bat freely. India limped to 62/3 in the 20th over. The spinners Sanath Jayasuriya (2/34) and Upul Chandana dried up the runs while also taking key wickets, and only Tendulkar (74) put up a fight. When he was out the score was 140/7 and the Indians were eventually restricted to 203/9.

2008 – Sri Lanka beat India by 100 runs at Karachi

  Pakistan hosted the Asia Cup for the first time. Sri Lanka retained the title with a big win over India in the final at the National Stadium. Ishant Sharma (3/52) struck early blows to have Sri Lanka at 66/4, but veteran opener Sanath Jayasuriya feasted against his favourite opposition. He found a willing ally in Tillakaratne Dilshan, and the two raised a fifth-wicket partnership of 131 runs. Jayasuriya was fifth out for a typical 125 off 114 balls, hitting nine fours and five sixes. Valuable runs from the lower order helped Sri Lanka get to 273 in 49.5 overs.

sport-graphics-2008_777596a  Sri Lanka’s Ajantha Mendis in action during the 2008 final, in which he took a stunning 6/13 to condemn India to a 100-run defeat (source – telegraph.co.uk)

  Virender Sehwag (60 off 36 balls) then gave a rousing start to India until ‘mystery spinner’ Ajantha Mendis arrived. Mendis removed Sehwag off his second ball and went on to rip through the Indian batting line-up as they went from 76/1 in the 10th over to 173 all out in 39.3 overs. He ended with figures of 8-1-13-6, the best ever in the Asia Cup and his bamboozling spell helped Sri Lanka romp home by 100 runs to retain the title. 

2010 – India beat Sri Lanka by 81 runs at Dambulla

  India exacted revenge on the Lankans in the latter’s home turf of the Rangiri International Stadium to win the title for the first time since 1994. A solid batting display helped the Indians reach 268/6 after MS Dhoni opted to bat. Almost everyone contributed to a certain extent, with opener Dinesh Karthik’s 66 being the highest. Karthik put on 62 with Virat Kohli and 46 with Dhoni for the second and third wickets respectively to lay a strong platform. Lasith Malinga and Thilina Kandamby bagged two wickets each.

  The Indian pace bowlers then severely dented Sri Lanka, as the hosts crashed to 51/5 in the 16th over, with the top five all dismissed and the match as good as over. Chamara Kapugedera (55) tried to revive things with a 53-run sixth wicket stand with Kandamby, but the result was never in doubt. Sri Lanka were bowled out for 187 in 44.4 overs. Ashish Nehra was the pick of the bowlers with 4/40, while Zaheer Khan and Ravindra Jadeja took two apiece.

2011-12 – Pakistan beat Bangladesh by 2 runs at Dhaka

  This was by far the most exciting of all Asia Cup finals, played at the Sher-e-Bangla Stadium in Mirpur. Bangladesh had entered their maiden final, delighting their passionate supporters. After electing to field, the hosts made regular inroads into the Pakistani batting while keeping the run-rare tight as well. Umar Akmal and Hammad Azam added 59 for the fifth wicket to rescue their side from 70/4, but both fell for 30 each within four runs to make the score 133/6. It was wicketkeeper Sarfraz Ahmed who provided the late impetus, with an unbeaten 46 from 52 balls. Pakistan ended at 236/9, with the last wicket raising a crucial 30 runs. Abdur Razzak took 2/26.

  Bangladesh got off to a confident start but then went from 68/0 to 81/3. Tamim Iqbal scored a 68-ball 60. Nasir Hossain and Shakib Al Hasan then shared an 89-run stand for the fourth wicket to give their team the momentum. But with the required rate rising, wickets began to fall. Shakib was fifth out for a 72-ball 68. It all boiled down to the final over, to be bowled by Aizaz Cheema (3/46) with the score 228/7. With four runs to win off two balls, Cheema bowled Razzak before only one run was managed off the last ball to leave Bangladesh at 234/8, breaking the hearts of the home crowd.