When it comes to battles with old rival England on the sporting pitch, Ireland ensures that it fights on till the end. Whether it’s rugby or football or cricket - the Irish players, have over the years, made the contests legendary against the neighbours.
Eleven summers ago, when the two teams met for the last time in an ICC event, Kevin O’Brien hammered the fastest century of the World Cup to hand England a shock defeat in Bengaluru.
While cricket enthusiasts still cherish those memories, the Andrew Balbirnie-led team does not want to dwell on the past when it faces England in a T20 World Cup fixture at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Wednesday.
Things haven’t quite gone Ireland’s way over the last few days. After making it to the Super-12 stage for the first time since its inaugural T20 World Cup in 2009, the team suffered a humiliating nine-wicket defeat against Sri Lanka in the opener; whereas, England walks into this game after a convincing victory against Afghanistan.
So, with contrasting fortunes, England, obviously, holds the edge on paper. But in a format as fickle as the T20s, England captain Jos Buttler does not want to be complacent. “Anytime you take things for granted or you don’t respect the opposition is when you can get hurt,” Buttler said on the eve of the game. “In T20 cricket especially, there’s the one format where it’s as level a playing field as any…”
England plays two games at the MCG in three days and keeping that in mind, there is a possibility that it could rotate some of its fast bowlers, even though captain Buttler insists that they would field the best-eleven. The conditions certainly would aid the quicks and it would be interesting to see if England finally decides to rest Sam Curran, who claimed a five-for in the previous game, in a bid to keep him fresh for Friday’s game against Australia.
Despite a strong batting unit, England had sort of a collapse in the middle-order against Afghanistan before Liam Livingstone came to the rescue and before playing Australia later this week, the top batters would be hoping to regain some sort of confidence against a rather low-key Irish bowling line-up. With George Dockrell recovering from a ‘possible bout of COVID-19’, the team’s bowling department is being spearheaded by Joshua Little. But against Sri Lanka, none of them could have an impact.
The Irish camp, however, is hopeful of things changing at the MCG. Its batting revolves around Paul Stirling, who has been able to manage just 145 in the last five T20 outings, and captain Balbirnie (55 in last five games) and the team management would expect them to fire against the arch-rival to allow the middle-order to take things forward.
Because of the indifferent form, not many expected Ireland to make it to the Super-12, but now that the team is here, it wants to make some noise - preferably more when it meets the neighbour!