In Focus – Six players to watch out for in the ICC WCL Division Three

  The 2017 ICC World Cricket League Division Three is set to commence in Uganda later today. The week-long 50-over tournament will feature six Associate nations, with the top two teams earning entry into the six-team 2018 Division Two tournament and getting a step closer to a shot at qualification for the 2019 World Cup. 

  The tournament will feature a round-robin stage followed by playoffs. The teams in action are hosts Uganda (5th in 2015 Division Two), Canada (6th in 2015 Division Two), Malaysia (3rd in 2014 Division Three), Singapore (4th in 2014 Division Three), United States of America (1st in 2016 Division Three) and Oman (2nd in 2016 Division Three).

  Eighteen matches will be played across three venues in Uganda. With just a few hours to go for the tournament to begin, fans of Associate cricket would undoubtedly be looking forward to what promises to be an unpredictable and keenly-contested week of one-day cricket. We look at six players – one from each of the participating nations – who will be worth keeping an eye on.

Deusdedit Muhumuza (Uganda)

  Hosts Uganda, under the aegis of their Kenyan coach Steve Tikolo, will enter the tournament riding on a rich vein of form, having remarkably subdued Kenya 4-0 in the five-match Easter Series in April. A notable performer for the Cricket Cranes, as the Ugandan side is known, in this series was 27-year-old pace-bowling all-rounder Deusdedit Muhumuza.

  Muhumuza repeatedly stifled the Kenyan batsmen with his medium pace, not to mention his valuable lower-order batting. Last September, he had fashioned his side’s two-wicket win over Kenya with a haul of 5/49. Reported for a suspect action in 2013-14, Muhumuza has since come back strong and could be a force to reckon with in familiar environs.

      Pace bowler Deusdedit Muhumuza will be looking to impress for hosts Uganda in the ICC World Cricket League Division Three (source – fairfax nz/robert charles)

Satsimranjit Dhindsa (Canada)

  India-born fast bowler Satsimranjit Dhindsa is an important cog in the Canadian bowling attack. The 26-year-old played a vital role in Canada’s Auty Cup victory last October, taking six wickets at 22.33, including 4/37 in the second game wherein Canada successfully defended 216 to win by 17 runs. Last week, Dhindsa showed his prowess on the Zimbabwean tour as well.

  He took 5/53 as Canada ran a strong Zimbabwe A outfit close, losing by only two wickets. Along with the equally promising Cecil Pervez, he forms an effective opening pair that can put batsmen to the test. Dhindsa’s abilities are not limited to the ball – he can wield the long handle as well, as he showed during a valuable knock of 32* in the opening game of the Auty Cup. 

Ahmed Faiz (Malaysia)

  Malaysian captain Ahmed Faiz is the fulcrum of his side’s middle order, and much will be expected from him in this crunch tournament. Malaysia’s opening encounter will be against Singapore, the team that bore the brunt of Faiz’s blade in the 2015-16 Stan Nagiah Cup – Faiz scored 111* in the 50-over game, and followed it with a 109* in the T20.

  Faiz tends to score heavily in the World Cricket League – in 2014, he logged 317 runs at 63.40 in the Division Five tournament, 239 at 49.33 in Division Four and another 261 at 52.20 in Division Three. The 29-year-old, who first led Malaysia at the Under-19 World Cup at home in 2008, will be raring to lead from the front once again.

Arjun Mutreja (Singapore)

  A highly talented opening batsman, 27-year-old Arjun Mutreja will be banked upon by the Singaporeans to provide a robust start at the top. Born in Rajasthan in India, Mutreja has both, the maturity to dig deep and play an anchoring innings, as well as the capacity to accelerate when required.

  A worthy example of the latter was an innings of 79 off just 45 balls against Oman in the ACC Twenty20 Cup in 2014-15, an effort that gave Singapore a significant 23-run victory. Mutreja has happy memories of the last WCL Division Three, played in 2014, in which he finished as the highest run-getter with 282. An encore would surely hold Singapore in good stead.

       Leg spinner Timil Patel is expected to play a pivotal role for the United States of America in the six-team tournament in Uganda (source – usacricketers.com/shiek mohamed) 

Timil Patel (United States of America)

  Yet another India-born player on this list, 33-year-old leg spinner Timil Patel could prove to be the United States’ trump card in Uganda, what with his experience of first-class cricket – he played for his native Gujarat in the Ranji Trophy till 2009 – and the boost received in the form of a Caribbean Premier League contract in March.

  Patel was instrumental in the United States’ victorious WCL Division Four campaign last October, snaring a joint-highest of 14 wickets at 15.50, including 5/22 against Oman in a league match and a tidy 3/38 against the same opponents in the final. He also impressed for ICC Americas in the West Indies’ Regional Super50 earlier this year, taking eight wickets at 23.88.    

Zeeshan Maqsood (Oman)

  29-year-old all-rounder Zeeshan Maqsood is an integral part of the Omani set-up, as he affords his team the dual benefit of a hard-hitting opening batsman as well as a crafty slow left-arm orthodox bowler. With Oman aiming to further build on their gains of the past two years, Maqsood will assume an important role in the tournament.

  Less than three weeks ago, Maqsood hit a rapid 73 to set up Oman’s 38-run win over the United Arab Emirates, a team with ODI status, in Al Amerat. Last year against the same opponents in Dubai, he took 4/14 in less than four overs as Oman won by 72 runs. His fielding is as much of an asset, as this jaw-dropping catch at the 2016 World Twenty20 testified.

In Focus – IIT Delhi plays host to the T20 Blind World Cup

  The second edition of the T20 Blind World Cup, which concluded today with hosts India beating Pakistan by nine wickets in the final at the Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore, was contested with great zeal and dynamism. The ten-nation tournament featured 48 matches, played at various venues across the country.

  Among the venues was the IIT (Indian Institute of Technology) Delhi Cricket Ground, which hosted four matches of the tournament, including the opening clash between India and Bangladesh. These fixtures formed part of the pre-event schedule of Sportech, the institute’s annual inter-collegiate sporting extravaganza which is orchestrated by the Board of Student Activities (BSA). 

  Sportech organised the games in close collaboration with the Cricket Association for the Blind in India (CABI), which is in turn supported by the Samarthanam Trust for the Disabled and is affiliated to the World Blind Cricket Council (WBCC). Witnessing the cricketers overcome seemingly insurmountable hurdles and play with elan was undoubtedly an inspiration to the students.

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    The Indian and Bangladeshi teams line up at the IIT Delhi Ground before the start of the opening match of the 2017 T20 Blind World Cup (source – sportech 2017)

  “At Sportech, we believe in the idea of playing with pride, and we think representing one’s nation is the epitome of that sentiment, which is why we wanted to spread the word across. Watching these matches was an enriching experience in itself.”, said Ishan Tyagi, General Secretary, Board for Sports Activities, IIT Delhi.

  The whole spectacle spanning across four matches in as many days was enlightening, to say the least, for the people involved. The spirited players served as beacons of hope as they showcased their skills that oozed from their play. The spectators were left enthralled by the astonishing batting performances as well as brilliant displays of fielding.

  It is to be noted that according to blind cricket rules, players are segregated under three categories. Each team of eleven has four players who are totally blind, categorised under B1; three players who are partially blind, categorized under B2; and four players who are partially sighted, categorized under B3.

  India, seeking to defend the title they won in 2012, posted a comfortable 129-run win over Bangladesh in the first match on 30th January. Experienced batsman Ketan Patel (B1), who was later named man of the match, top-scored with 98 while opener Prakasha Jayaramaiah (B3) contributed 96 as the hosts piled up 279/5. Bangladesh were restricted to 150/7 in reply.

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      Action from the T20 Blind World Cup match between Sri Lanka and West Indies, played at the IIT Delhi Ground on 1st February (source – sportech 2017)

  The next day, New Zealand bore the brunt of a superlative batting display from the Sri Lankan openers. Ruwan Wasantha (B2) hammered 170* while Suranga Sampath (B3) scored 146* to help their side to an imposing 334/0. Unsurprisingly, New Zealand’s batsmen had no answer to this mammoth total and could manage only 120/7.

  Sri Lanka continued their good form in the following match, against the West Indies on 1st February. Sampath blasted his second century in succession, this time a knock of 116. Chandana Deshapriya (B3) gave him able support by scoring 108. The eventual total of 281/2 was too tall to chase for the Windies, who were kept to 151/8 in their allotted 20 overs.

  The West Indians were in action again on 2nd February, as they took on Bangladesh. Smarting from their big defeat to India, Bangladesh bounced back with a facile eight-wicket win while the West Indies suffered their second loss in a row. Kevin Andrew Douglas’ 123 went in vain as Bangladesh, thanks to a knock of 90 by Tanzjlur Rahman, chased down the total of 195/6.

  CABI was created as a platform for the social empowerment of the visually impaired through sport. Sportech’s association with them intersects with their vision of sport as a means of achieving greater inclusion and unity in society and their collaboration with the T20 Blind World Cup 2017 is an embodiment of that commitment.  

In Focus – Eight players to watch out for at the Desert T20 Challenge

  The inaugural eight-nation Desert T20 Challenge, a welcome development for the Associate nations, is underway in the United Arab Emirates. The week-long tournament features eight teams clubbed into two groups: Group A includes Afghanistan, Ireland, Namibia and hosts UAE while Group B will see Hong Kong, Oman, Scotland and the Netherlands battle it out.

  The T20 format provides plenty of scope for lesser-fancied teams to upset an applecart or two, even among the Associates – an apt example of which was Oman’s memorable win over Ireland at the World T20 last year – and one can expect the Desert T20 to be full of twists, turns and game-changing feats. Here is a look at eight players, one from each team, worth keeping an eye on in the tournament.

Najibullah Zadran (Afghanistan)

  23 year-old Zadran has of late become a major impact player for Afghanistan, who arguably possess the strongest unit among the eight teams. Just a month ago, the left-hander clubbed 55* from 24 balls off the UAE bowlers with an asking rate of eleven staring at him. A T20I strike rate of 151.54 – the second-best ever – suggests that no target is out of bounds when this man is in the zone.

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      Najibullah Zadran’s remarkable strike-rate of 151.54 makes him a dangerous prospect in the Desert T20 (source – espncricinfo/ICC/sportsfile)

Paul Stirling (Ireland)

  The swashbuckling Stirling may have gone quiet in recent months, but Ireland’s opponents should discount him at their own peril. He can take the game away in a flash and his team, going through a poor patch in the shortest format, will pin its hopes on him to provide a healthy start as well as a few overs of stifling spin. He has a good record in T20Is the UAE, with a tally of 359 runs at 39.55.

Louis van der Westhuizen (Namibia)

  Namibia will look to grab this chance – they gained entry only because Papua New Guinea pulled out – to upstage higher-ranked sides. Louis van der Westhuizen will be key to their fortunes in his dual role of opener and slow left-armer. He recently returned to the side after more than two years, and impressed with a quickfire 56 against KwaZulu-Natal Inland in the CSA One-Day Challenge.   

Mohammad Naveed (United Arab Emirates)

  The UAE sprung a surprise by entering the main round of the Asia Cup T20 last year, and pivotal to their success in the qualifiers was medium pacer Mohammad Naveed, who took seven wickets at an average of 8.14, and more notably, an economy rate of 4.75. One of the rare bowlers with an economy rate under six in T20Is, he will look to continue in the same vein in front of his home crowd.

Babar Hayat (Hong Kong)

  The in-form Hayat, who was named captain last August, epitomizes the new-found spirit of his team that has made impressive strides in the last couple of years. He has the highest T20I score by an Associate batsman – a stunning 122 off 60 balls against Oman in a losing cause last year, and more recently, starred with 159 runs in Hong Kong’s ODI series win over Papua New Guinea.

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    Hong Kong skipper Babar Hayat will be keen to lead from the front in the Desert T20 with his belligerent batting at the top (source – hong kong cricket) 

Khawar Ali (Oman)

  Pakistan-born Khawar Ali provides Oman with a vital multi-utility option suited to the T20 game. Besides being a top-order batsman, he is an accurate leg-spinner who can be an asset in the middle overs. He was the man of the tournament in the World Cricket League in the United States last November, with his best all-round performance of 74 and 5/37 coming in a crucial game against Denmark.

Ahsan Malik (Netherlands)

  The canny Malik has grown to become one of the most effective pace bowlers in this format – a T20I record of 43 wickets at 14.81 bears testimony – and is a major factor in the Netherlands’ rise as a T20 force. His action was reported in 2015, but he has since made a return to bowling, albeit with ordinary results. The Desert T20 might just be the vehicle for him to get back to his best.

Con de Lange (Scotland)

  35-year-old slow left-armer de Lange will be Scotland’s lead spin bowler in the tournament. He is also the vice-captain of the team and a seasoned campaigner who has played for multiple first-class sides in his native South Africa as well as for Northamptonshire. His parsimonious bowling played a part in Scotland beating Hong Kong to win the Braidwood Cup last September.      

In Focus – Former South African cricketer now an Olympic medallist

  Sunette Viljoen joined a rare group of international cricketers to have won an Olympic medal when she took the silver medal in the women’s javelin event at the Rio Olympics yesterday. The 32-year-old South African had played one Test and 17 ODIs for her country between 2000 and 2002.

  Competing in her fourth Olympics, Viljoen finished second with her best throw measuring 64.92 metres, behind Croatia’s Sara Kolak who had a throw of 66.18 metres. After finishing 35th and 33rd in the 2004 and 2008 Games respectively, she had missed out on a medal by just one place at London in 2012.

  It was back in 2000 when Viljoen made her international cricket debut for South Africa Women, in an ODI against England at Chelmsford. At 17 years and 10 days, she was then the youngest woman to play ODI cricket for South Africa. The Rustenburg-born all-rounder also played in the Women’s World Cup in New Zealand later that year.

  Viljoen’s ODI returns were modest, scoring 198 runs at 16.50 and taking five wickets at 33.20 with her medium pace. Her only half century was an unbeaten 54 against England at Lincoln in the 2000 World Cup, an innings that guided South Africa to a five-wicket win. Her best figures of 3/27 came in the same tournament, against Ireland at Christchurch.

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 16: Sunette Viljoen of South Africa in the qualification round of the women's javelin during the evening session on Day 11 Athletics of the 2016 Rio Olympics at Olympic Stadium on August 16, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Roger Sedres/Gallo Images)

        Former South African all-rounder Sunnette Viljoen won the silver medal in the women’s javelin event at the ongoing Rio Olympics (source – gettyimages)

  Viljoen’s solitary Test, against India at Paarl in 2001-02, was the last international match she featured in. Though South Africa were beaten by ten wickets, she impressed with a gritty 71 in the second innings. Her javelin career began soon after and she bagged her first gold medal at the Afro-Asian Games in Hyderabad, India in 2003. 

  In her maiden Commonwealth Games appearance at Melbourne in 2006, Viljoen took the gold by a whisker – only 0.18 metres separated her from the runner-up. She repeated the feat four years later at the Delhi Games, this time in a much more convincing fashion. At the Glasgow Games of 2014, she finished second to Australia’s Kim Mickle.

  After the disappointing performances in 2004 and 2008, Viljoen almost took the bronze at the 2012 London Olympics, falling short of Germany’s Linda Stahl by only 0.38 metres and thus finishing fourth. Her dream of finishing on the podium has finally been realised in Rio de Janeiro, and it will no doubt be a moment to cherish for the dual sportswoman.

  This is the first medal to be won by a South African woman at the Rio Games and the country’s ninth in all. South Africa currently sit 34th on the table with a haul of one gold, six silvers and two bronzes. Besides Viljoen, Wayde van Niekerk (gold in 400m) and Luvo Manyonga (silver in long jump) have won medals in athletics for South Africa.

  With this achievement, Viljoen has become only the fourth international cricketer to win an Olympic medal, and the first in 96 years. The other three were Englishmen, all of whom played Test cricket after their Olympic successes – Claude Buckenham (gold in football, 1900), Johnny Douglas (gold in boxing, 1908) and Jack MacBryan (gold in hockey, 1920).

In Focus – Ireland Women create history in style

  A week after levelling the two-match T20 series with a maiden win over South Africa, Ireland’s sprightly women have created history again by winning the final match of the ODI leg. This is the first time that Ireland – whether men or women – have defeated South Africa in an ODI.

  Though South Africa had already wrapped the four-match series with easy wins in the first three ODIs, Ireland, led by Laura Delany, had everything to play for in the concluding battle at the Hills Cricket Club ground in Dublin. They went on to produce an utterly convincing display to prove that they are no pushovers.

  South Africa never really got going after deciding to bat amid windy conditions. 20-year-old vice-captain Kim Garth bowled a tight spell and was duly rewarded with the wickets of openers Laura Wolvaardt and Trisha Chetty, who had scored 105 and 95 respectively in the third ODI.

  From thereon, the Proteas were stifled by an increasingly disciplined Irish bowling attack. Medium pacer Louise McCarthy got rid of the dangerous Mignon du Preez – who had scored an unbeaten century in the second ODI – before Garth (3/27) came back to grab her third scalp in the form of Lara Goodall.

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     Former captain and star all-rounder Isobel Joyce scored an unbeaten 62* to guide Ireland to victory (source – cricketireland.ie)

  With South Africa reeling at 57/4, the hosts now had a firm grip on the proceedings. Andrie Steyn scored a plucky 43, but wickets at regular intervals nullified her efforts. Captain Dinesha Devnarain was brilliantly run out by Lucy O’Reilly while rookie Gaby Lewis – all of 15 years of age – accounted for Sune Luus with her leg spin.

  Just when Steyn and Chloe Tyron were attempting a recovery, veteran Ciara Metcalfe had the former caught behind by Mary Waldron, who took four catches. O’Reilly joined the party as well, nailing Yolandi Fourie thanks to a catch from Isobel Joyce, before Metcalfe (3/23) collected the last two wickets, including Tyron’s, to restrict the opposition to a measly 143.

  Having conceded totals of 283, 272 and 260 in the first three games, this was a significant improvement from the bowlers and the onus now lay upon the batting line-up to finish the task. The start was a bit wobbly – Clare Shillington, Una Raymond-Hoey and Cath Dalton were all back in the hut within 16 overs.

  Shillington had raced to a breezy 28 to give the chase a bright start, but her innings was cut short by a direct hit from Ayabonga Khaka. The evergreen Joyce came in at 68/3 to join Lewis in the middle. Lewis’ maturity belied her years as she admirably dropped anchor while Joyce went on the attack at the other end.

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            Vice-captain Kim Garth took 3/27 to dent South Africa’s top order (source – alloutcricket.com)

  This mixture of caution from the talented youngster and aggression from the senior pro soon blossomed into a commanding partnership, evaporating any faint hopes that the South Africans might have entertained. Joyce reached her fourth ODI fifty from 67 balls with a boundary off Fourie in the 36th over.

  Another boundary from Joyce – her 12th – from the first ball of the next over off Marcia Letsoalo sealed Ireland’s comprehensive seven-wicket victory. The unbroken alliance raised 78 runs in 20.3 overs – Joyce scoring 62* in just 71 balls, Lewis an equally valuable 27* in 70 balls.

  This heart-warming win is yet another addition to the successes of the Irish women’s team over the past couple of years. The T20 win last week was not as much of a surprise as was made out to be, considering Ireland’s consistent growth in the format.

  Last December, Ireland, under the inspirational leadership of Joyce, won the World T20 Qualifier in Thailand by defeating Bangladesh in the final. In the World T20 proper earlier this year, they came within 14 runs of defeating Sri Lanka at Mohali. In 2013-14, they beat Pakistan by six wickets at Doha.

  The women’s game has been infused with new vigour following the rise of the T20 format, and the performances of emerging teams are a welcome development. Ireland Women have been steadily improving and the twin wins against South Africa are a further indication of their unquestionable talent.

Match Scorecard 

In Focus – Kent County Cricket Club donates equipment to Sierra Leone’s Kent Cricket Club

  Kent County Cricket Club in England has on Thursday 28th July, 2016 donated equipment consisting of Kwik Cricket sets (bats, stumps and balls and cones) to the Kent Cricket Club in Sierra Leone. The equipment donated is made of high quality plastic, which makes them light enough for children of all ages to handle in playing cricket.

  In 2013, Kent Cricket Club in Sierra Leone established a unique partnership with Kent County Cricket Club in England. The County Club in England has been donating kits and equipment in the past and has been very supportive in other areas to the Kent Cricket Club (KCC).

  During the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, Jamie Clifford, the Chief Executive Officer of Kent County Cricket Club in England, wrote a letter to the then British Prime Minister, David Cameron, asking the British government to increase its support to Sierra Leone in the fight to end the epidemic.

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  “We have a passion for developing cricket and we are extending our philanthropism to support other countries, and have been in partnership with Kent Cricket Club in Sierra Leone for several years now. Equipment is needed for the development of cricket globally, so it is a privilege to give the Kwik Cricket sets to a developing country in cricket like Sierra Leone.

  “Our aim is to give children in Sierra Leone the opportunity to play cricket with standard equipment as a way of enabling them materialise their passionate potential in cricket. Kent Cricket Club in Sierra Leone is striving to deliver cricket to as many young people as possible, with the aim of helping young cricketers reach their full potential.

  “We will continue to support in ways that are appropriate for the Kent Cricket Club (SL), we are hoping that the already established relationship between us and the KCC will serve as an opportunity for the growth and development of Cricket in Sierra Leone”,  affirmed Andy Griffiths, Director of Community Cricket at Kent County Cricket Club in England.

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  Emmanuel Pessima, Chief Executive Officer of Kent Cricket Club in Sierra Leone, in his statement while receiving the equipment said that he is excited about the donation as it comes in at a time when the KCC is deeply in need of equipment for its community cricket projects.

  “We want to see the game of cricket become more popular throughout Sierra Leone, and produce cricketers that will represent Sierra Leone in the future. Now that the Club has got the equipment, we will continue to focus on grass-roots cricket programs. For us at the KCC, Schools Cricket cannot be ignored as the future of cricket lies on our school children”, Mr. Pessima emphasised.

  “On behalf of everyone at the Kent Cricket Club (KCC), I want to say thanks to Andy Griffiths, Jamie Clifford, David Turner and everyone at the Kent County Cricket Club in England for your continued support to the Kent Cricket Club (KCC)”, Mr. Pessima further added.

  Information and picture credits: Mohamed L Bah, Communications and Development Officer, Kent Cricket Club (KCC), Sierra Leone.

In Focus – Ireland’s ODI journey completes ten years

  13th June marks a decade since Ireland played its first full One-Day International match. Led by Trent Johnston, the boys in green took on England at the scenic Civil Service Cricket Club in Belfast in 2006 and in spite of defeat, displayed spirit and enthusiasm that would typify their performances in the years to come.

  A sell-out crowd of close to 7,000 watched England win by 38 runs – the margin of victory being narrower than most people at the ground would have expected – as Ireland gave a creditable account of themselves. The best Irish batsman was however plying his trade for the opposite camp; Ed Joyce was one of three debutants fielded by England.

  Marcus Trescothick’s commanding 113 paved the way for England’s substantial total of 301/7. He shared in a stand of 143 for the fourth wicket with Ian Bell (80) after England were 92/3. Dave Langford-Smith, who would later have his moments at the 2007 World Cup, and John Mooney picked up three wickets apiece but were on the expensive side. Dominick Joyce, Ed’s younger brother, was out without scoring in the first over of the chase itself.

  Jeremy Bray, Andre Botha (who top-scored with 52) and Kyle McCallan batted grittily and at 118/2 in the 26th over, Ireland were making a good fist of it. However, Steve Harmison and Paul Collingwood put paid to any hopes of an upset as they engineered a collapse of 4 for 17 in three overs. Kevin O’Brien and Andrew White put on 74 for the seventh wicket before both fell to Bell, of all bowlers. Mooney hit around a bit from number ten as Ireland ended at a thoroughly respectable 263/9.

  Ireland had secured ODI status and World Cup qualification for the first time in 2005 when they finished second behind Scotland in the ICC Trophy at home. This was just a further confirmation of their recent exploits in the 50-over game, following famous wins over the touring Zimbabweans in 2003 and the West Indians in 2004. Lamentably, official international status was not accorded to either of these matches.

  Prior to these successes, Ireland’s most significant achievement was beating the West Indians at Sion Mills in 1969, where the tourists were shot out for a scarcely believable 25. But one would have to go even further back in time for Ireland’s first ever victory over a Test nation – this was against the South Africans at Dublin’s College Park back in 1904.

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      England’s Marcus Trescothick scored 113 as Ireland went down by 38 runs in their first ODI match at Belfast in 2006 (source – skysports.com)

  Ireland have seldom looked back after having attained ODI status. It did not take them long to record their first ODI win, which came in their second match against hosts Scotland in the European Championship Division One, a tournament which they went on to win. The ICC World Cricket League in Kenya at the start of 2007 was forgettable as Ireland managed only a solitary win in five matches.

  Few would have predicted that the watershed moment of Irish cricket was to arrive in the coming month. Clubbed with Pakistan, West Indies and Zimbabwe in Group D of the 2007 World Cup in the Caribbean, Ireland stunned all and sundry by storming into the Super Eight round after a tie with Zimbabwe and a defeat of Pakistan at Kingston’s Sabina Park on St. Patrick’s Day.

  The discipline and accuracy of the Irish bowlers, helped by the green-tinged wicket, was too much for the Pakistani batsmen to handle as they crumbled for a measly 132. Boyd Rankin and Botha in particular were excellent, with the latter’s remarkably stingy analysis of 8-4-5-2 being the stuff of legend. Yet, the inexperience of the batsmen could have nearly wasted a golden opportunity had it not been for Niall O’Brien.

  The older of the O’Brien brothers scored 72 and single-handedly anchored the chase. No other batsman crossed 16. It was captain Johnston who fittingly hit the winning six, sealing Ireland’s place in World Cup history. A second win against Bangladesh in the next round ensured that Ireland found a place on the ICC ODI table. A bunch of amateurs who were written off as cannon fodder for the stronger teams were the toast of the tournament.

  Ireland’s World Cup success garnered the attention of the cricketing world and as many as three top teams – India, South Africa and West Indies – travelled to the Emerald Isle to play ODIs in 2007. Early in 2008, Ireland played their first overseas bilateral series, losing all three ODIs in Bangladesh. However in the ensuing years, fixtures against full members frustratingly reduced to a trickle.

  2009 saw Ireland qualify for the World Cup again, this time by virtue of winning the qualifying tournament in South Africa. In the lead-up to the 2011 World Cup, Ireland steadily became the world’s leading Associate nation by winning the WCL undefeated. Wins over Bangladesh and Zimbabwe in the 2010/11 season proved that they were in for the long run. There was a massive opportunity squandered though when they snatched defeat from the jaws of victory against mighty Australia in Dublin.

  Ireland entered the 2011 World Cup with a point to prove. The ICC had callously decided to shut the door on the Associates for the 2015 World Cup and the onus was on the Irish, now led by William Porterfield, to be the torchbearers for the ‘have-nots’ of the cricket world. The non-Test playing nations were derided as ‘minnows’ and their very presence in the tournament was being questioned.

  Canada, Kenya and Netherlands had done little to change that opinion, so Ireland decided to take matters in their own hands. On a balmy night in Bangalore, red-haired Kevin O’Brien rampaged against old enemy England to provide the World Cup with its most astonishing spectacle. Ireland came into this game on the back of a narrow defeat to Bangladesh and needed something special to turn the tide.

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         Underdogs Ireland were the story of the 2007 World Cup as they notched famous wins over Pakistan and Bangladesh (source – icc-cricket.com) 

  The English batsmen filled their boots on a flat wicket and piled 327/8. Never before had this big a total been chased down successfully in a World Cup match. Ireland lost Porterfield off the very first ball, and despite positive intent from Paul Stirling and Ed Joyce – back with his native team four years after he last played for England – the writing was on the wall at 111/5 in the 25th over. Or so it seemed.

  With the assured presence of Alex Cusack at the other end, O’Brien unleashed himself on the English bowlers and into the record books. He blitzed the fastest World Cup hundred of all time – from just 50 balls – and ended up with 113 from 63 balls with 13 fours and six of the cleanest sixes one would ever see. By the time he was out in the 49th over, a lost cause had been turned into certain victory, which was duly achieved with five balls to spare. It was a script straight out of a fairytale.

  O’Brien had overnight become the poster boy of Irish cricket. Ireland had well and truly arrived and were no longer pushovers. Even though they did not make the quarterfinals, their performance was enough to put pressure on the ICC to reconsider their decision and hence continue with the 14-team format for the 2015 edition. If the 2007 win over Pakistan was a watershed moment, the 2011 win over England opened the floodgates.

  The significance of defeating England created a deep impact on the Irish cricketing scene. Test cricket was now a realistic prospect, national cricketers had professional contracts, participation had increased manifold and Irish cricket now had a future to look forward to. Yet, between the 2011 and 2015 World Cups, Ireland played just nine ODIs against Test nations. It was a damning indictment of the indifference with which non-Test nations have been treated over the years.

  Pakistan and England toured Ireland in 2011, Australia in 2012. But one or two sporadic fixtures were hardly what an emerging team needed to further spread its wings. 2013 marked the arrival of a new inter-provincial domestic system consisting of three teams and contested in all three formats. Pakistan, en route to England for the Champions Trophy, played two more ODIs in Dublin in what was a thrilling series.

  Kevin O’Brien was at it again as Ireland were faced with a challenging revised target of 276 in 47 overs in the first game. A breezy 103 from Stirling set the chase up nicely and it ultimately came down to 15 runs off the final over. O’Brien (84* from 47 balls) collected 6,2, 4 off the last three balls to help tie the game. In the second ODI, Ireland let Pakistan off the hook and lost the series in the process.

  Tim Murtagh and Johnston had Pakistan on the mat at 17/4 after Ed Joyce’s sublime 116* guided Ireland to 229/8. However, the hosts could not sustain that level and watched ruefully as the lower order took Pakistan home. Later in the season, England hopped across for their customary solitary ODI, in what was billed as the biggest game of cricket on Irish soil. 

  This game marked the international debut of Ireland’s new ground, The Village at Malahide in Dublin. Bright sunshine greeted a capacity crowd of more than 10,000 as Irish cricket gloriously showed itself off to the world. The cricket itself was of high quality, but Ireland had to endure the disappointment of an English win made possible by one of their own.

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        Ireland’s most memorable ODI win came against England in 2010-11, with Kevin O’Brien smashing the fastest World Cup century  (source – theguardian.com)

  Eoin Morgan, who shifted allegiance to England in 2009 with a desire to play Test cricket was now captain of his adopted team, and he produced a match-winning 124* to propel England to a victory which seemed a distant possibility when the score read 48/4 in reply to Ireland’s 269/7. The home captain Porterfield had earlier made a hundred of his own, striking 112 to delight the crowd. Two Irishmen had scored centuries, yet Ireland ended up on the losing side.

  It was not long after that the ICC proclaimed that the 2019 World Cup would consist of only team teams – and this time the decision was to stay. Come the 2015 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, Ireland once again had to defy lack of opportunities and the injustice of the powers-that-be to prove that they belonged to the world stage. Direct qualification by winning the WCL was expected, and the next target was a quarterfinal berth down under.

  Ireland’s first opponents were the West Indies at Nelson. Their joy knew no bounds as the Windies slipped to 87/5 after being put in to bat. But a hundred from Lendl Simmons – nephew of Ireland’s long-time coach Phil Simmons – steered the eventual total to a sturdy 304/7. The wicket was however good to bat on, the ground was small and the West Indian attack pedestrian.

  The Irish top order cashed in gleefully and a chase which would have had most teams in a quandary instead turned out to be clinically straightforward. Stirling (92 from 84 balls), Joyce (84 from 67) and Niall O’Brien (79* from 60) all starred and a four-wicket win was achieved with as many as 25 balls unused. This was a match Ireland were expected to win and it was ample proof that they had simply outgrown the ‘Associate’ tag.

  With this win, Ireland became the first team to successfully chase down a total of more than 300 on three occassions in the World Cup. Two more wins were achieved in the group stage – both nail-biting affairs – against UAE and Zimbabwe respectively. But heavy defeats to South Africa and India meant that Ireland lost out to the West Indies for a place in the quarterfinals by virtue of net run rate.

  Since the 2015 World Cup, Ireland along with Afghanistan have been permanently admitted into the ICC ODI Championship table. However, they have played only five ODIs in this period. This state of affairs is set to change slightly, as a clutch of matches have been scheduled over the next one year. Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan will all be touring Ireland this summer. Ireland will later travel to South Africa to play the hosts as well as Australia.

  Hopefully, this is a sign for an even more regular diet of fixtures against higher ranked teams. With Ireland all but certain to play its first Test match sooner than later, the next few years promise to be an exciting period for Irish cricket as it prepares to take yet another giant step foward.