Ireland look to get back on track.
Ian Callender (Belfast Telegraph)
IRELAND have never lost back to back games in a World Twenty20 qualifying tournament and no-one expects them to ruin that record today when they face Hong Kong in their penultimate Group A game at Malahide this afternoon (2.15pm).
Indeed, of the previous 28 qualifying games before Wednesday's defeat to Papau New Guinea, Ireland had lost only three - twice to Afghanistan in 2010 and against Namibia, two tournaments and 22 matches ago. Captain William Porterfield is fully au fait with the statistics.
“The last game we lost was the first one in 2012 and we had to win 10 on the bounce in 11 days to win the competition (which they duly did). So we are in a similar position now, we have to win our next four or five games to win the competition, but we can't look past Hong Kong,” he said.
Defeat to Papua New Guinea - John Bracewell's first loss as Ireland coach - was, undoubtedly a shock, but the Pacific Islanders are on the rise and last year they made it into the world's top six Associate countries, recognised as a High Performance country and receiving increased monies from the ICC's development programme. It has, literally, paid off. This was their biggest ever win, but not their first over Ireland.
That came two years ago, albeit in an uncapped warm-up match in Dubai ahead of the last World T20 qualifying tournament, when eight of the Ireland team on duty at Stormont were also in action, so they knew the form. But Porterfield has insisted all week that if Ireland played to their potential they would win every game, if they were not at their best, any team is capable of turning up and winning a game of cricket.
Hong Kong who will return to these shores next summer to play Ireland in the Inter-continental Cup, won their first game of the tournament on Wednesday - a last over success against Nepal whom Ireland had bowled on Monday for 53 - but the win leapfrogged them to fourth place in a crowded, unpredictable Group A table and they will expect to go up rather than down after they play their remaining three games in the next three days.
For Ireland to put them in their place, they will want their top order batsmen to come to the party. The low scores by Niall and Kevin O'Brien and Paul Stirling on Wednesday means that three of Ireland's top four have reached double figures in only one of their four games, while the captain, who seems to carrying the team on his shoulders, is averaging 141!
The bowling, until John Mooney's final over on Wednesday, was almost faultless in the tournament and as Porterfield said: “When someone hits a couple of sixes, chasing a low total you are always in the game.”
So it's just about returning to basics today for Ireland and as Porterfield said "control the controllables", although the first result of the day will have huge significance to the group. If PNG beat Nepal they will go top and, like Ireland will still have two matches to play. Only the winners go straight through to the semi-finals next Saturday.
Today Group A fixtures: Malahide: Nepal v PNG (10am), IRELAND v Hong Kong (2.15pm). Clontarf: Namibia v Jersey (10am)
Tomorrow - Malahide: Nepal v Jersey (10am), PNG v Namibia (2.15pm). Clontarf: Hong Kong v USA