NOT for the first time in the last couple of years, Ireland are in must-win territory to keep alive their hopes of progressing in a tournament.

Saturday’s five wickets defeat by Afghanistan in the Desert T20 means there can be no slip-ups in today’s game against Namibia or tomorrow’s against hosts UAE if they are to reach finals day on Friday and while even three years ago victory against these nations would have been a formality for Ireland, the pressure is now on a side which has lost their last seven T20 internationals.

A familiar face has returned to the Ireland set-up this week with Andrew White, a veteran of 232 internationals – only Kevin O’Brien and William Porterfield have played more – in a new role as specialist coach, using his vast experience of playing in the UAE and preparing the players so they are ready to perform.

“The senior players are very diligent in their preparation and are excellent role models for the younger guys coming into the team. One-to-one sessions with most of the players in the nets have been brilliant for me to get to know how each individual wants to prepare and play,” says the Grosvenor High School teacher.
He is also the latest to try and answer the question of just what has gone wrong with Ireland in the shortest format.

“We have won the Intercontinental Cup on several occasions and been the outstanding Associate Nation in the competition. To then become an outstanding team in T20 is difficult and we are asking players to average 40+ in first class cricket and then have a strike rate of 140 in T20,” says White.

“Even in club and Inter-provincial cricket it is arguably something that we do not see stand-out performances in. That said, the players in this squad have a very good understanding of what they have to do to be successful and hopefully over the course of the week we will see some improvements.

“There has been a real effort to try and identify players who we feel can have an impact on T20 cricket and the selection of Jacob Mulder and Josh Little are exciting prospects not only in this format but potentially other formats in time to come.

“The Interprovincial series has allowed Greg Thompson to earn a recall but it is not going to be an overnight fix and I know that the coaches at all levels realise the importance of improving on T20 skill levels.

“It has been disappointing to lose Stuart Thompson to injury on the eve of the tournament because he is the dynamic cricketer that could be very successful in this format.

“Although we lost the game on Saturday we were not as far away from victory as the scoreboard may suggest. The players know the areas we need to add 5-10% in and the desire is there to get back to winning ways. Although the final on Friday night is our target we need to play with the fight and flair that has seen us be successful in Dubai before. Having listened to the captain this week, excuses won't enter the vocabulary.”

Since retiring from the international scene two years ago, White has coached at various levels from youth cricket in the NCU to the Cricket Ireland Emerging Players Programme last winter, the latter focusing on batting and especially against spin.

“In December, John Bracewell spoke to me about coming out to Dubai in a specialist role to help with the batters and also to gain some experience and learn from the expertise of the backroom staff,” explains White who admits he is keen to stay involved.

“Grosvenor Grammar School have been very supportive and understanding again in allowing me the time to be away on international duty, something that I am appreciative of. I want to be able to play a part in helping not only this generation of Irish cricketers but also those that are to come, but what that involves we will have to wait and see.”