When the ICC decided that from 1st January 2019 all 104 members will have full T20I status they clearly signalled that this is the format that they see as the vehicle to develop the game globally.
Currently there are 17 teams on the ICC T20i ranking table and Ireland lie last. Above them are the other eleven Test nations and five Associates. This is a far cry from November 2013 when Ireland confirmed their status as the leading Associate T20 nation, when a Trent Johnston inspired performance helped demolish Afghanistan in the T20 World Cup Qualifier final in Abu Dhabi.
Ireland continued that form into 2014 with a victory over the West Indies in Jamaica and then beat Zimbabwe and UAE in their first two matches of the final Qualifying round of the World T20 in Sylhet, Bangladesh.
The final match of the group turned out to be an event that derailed Ireland's progress as a leading T20 force. The demolition of Ireland's bowling attack by the Netherlands taking just 83 balls to chase down 190 left Ireland so shell shocked that have never fully recovered in the format.
Since that fateful day Ireland has only won six and tied one of their twenty seven T20I's. Seventeen of their twenty defeats came at the hands of Associate teams, the most embarrassing of which was the loss to Oman in the 2016 final World Cup Qualifier in Dharamsala.
In their games this year it appears that Ireland have learnt very little from the past few years. Their approach to the game and tactical strategy has failed to evolve and their position at the bottom of the ranking table reflects this. A new approach is vital if Ireland is to live up to its status as a Full Member especially given the amount of matches in this format that are scheduled in the current Future Tours Programme.
The FTP lists all matches until the first week in February 2023 and in that period Ireland are scheduled to play 13 Tests, 64 ODI's and 65 T20I's. Six of the T20I's and of course a Test match have already been played. Only Pakistan with 66 T20I's are due to play more. However, the Ireland list does not include the tri-series with Netherlands and Scotland over the next four years, which will add a further 16 matches to their itinerary.
There will also be two World Cup T20 tournaments in this period which will probably add a minimum of another 14 matches. Given that all Associates will have full T20I status it would be reasonable to expect that Ireland will play their part in arranging fixtures with Associates especially as they had great difficulty getting matches against FM's when they were an Associate nation.
Therefore Ireland could play as many as 100 T20I's between now and early 2023. Ireland's record over the past four years is so poor largely because the batsmen rarely give the bowlers enough runs to defend or are unable to chase down targets that other FM's and indeed some Associates regularly achieve.
T20 is primarily a game for batsmen and unless the wicket or conditions dictate otherwise bowlers generally play second fiddle. The exceptions to this are genuine pace or quality wrist spin neither of which Ireland have in their current squad. Runs at a brisk pace are the key to success especially in the power play and in the death overs. The power play is almost a game within a game and often determines the outcome of the match.
The following analysis gives a clearer picture as to why Ireland has fallen so far behind in this format.
As of the 31st July there have been 56 T20I's this year and the participants include all 12 FM's as well as Netherlands, Scotland, Nepal and a World XI. The average run rate across all 56 games is 8.54 runs per over. This equates to a 20 over total of 171 and would require an average strike rate of 142.3 per hundred balls to achieve that total. The current Ireland T20 squad, i.e. those who have played this year, and also those who possibly could return to the squad, have the following T20I career strike rates. I have only included players who have faced at least 50 deliveries in T20I's.
|PLAYER||S/R||PROJECTED TEAM SCORE|
As we can see not one Ireland player has a strike rate that would match the average strike rate in all T20I's this year. While obviously there have been matches where individual players have had strike rates in excess of the average, this is not happening on a consistent basis.
The reality is that for the most part Ireland are selecting many of the same players across all three formats irrespective of whether or not their skills are suited to all three. Clearly in relation to T20I's many are no longer suited to this format and upcoming selections need to reflect this so that a concerted and sustained blooding of a new breed of players get an opportunity of making their mark before next year's World T20 qualifier.
Unfortunately there are some players who have been around for many years and are contracted and who seem to have a sense of entitlement to play in all three formats. Quite frankly the T20 strike rates of Porterfield, Balbirnie and Wilson are unacceptable at this level. While Balbirnie is young enough and has bounced back in fine style in the recently concluded T20 Interpro tournament, the chances of Porterfield significantly improving his rates is minimal.
I can understand why Graeme Ford decided to make Wilson captain when Porterfield stepped down as he had promoted him to the captaincy at Surrey when Graeme Smith had to retire prematurely. However that was four years ago and Wilson was batting well across all three formats at the time.
His appointment as Ireland captain was accompanied by a somewhat disingenuous statement which stated that "Over the 2017-2018 period, Gary has scored 256 runs in eight innings at an average of 51.20, and a fantastic strike rate of 158.02. For this format of the game, those statistics are outstanding."
The problem with the statement is that it suggests that his form was spread over two years while in fact those innings finished in March 2017 as Ireland didn't play a T20I after March 2017 until June of this year. His strike rate for Ireland this season is 112 while in seven innings for Derbyshire it is 116. His spell as captain has produced one win and one tie in six matches and included two absolute hidings by India. In a format that demands that your best batsmen face as many balls as possible it is bizarre that Wilson is batting at number five in the order while, as happened in the second India match, O'Brien, Thompson and Singh are below him in the order. In the second match against the Netherlands in June, which Ireland lost by four wickets with six balls to spare, a partnership by Wilson and Porterfield epitomised what is wrong with Ireland's approach.
Despite eight batsmen in the match having a strike rate of 130 or better, the Ireland pair added just 26 runs in 30 deliveries and effectively cost Ireland the match. The other argument that was produced in defence of Wilson's ascension to the captaincy was his experience. There is no doubt that he is experienced but so are several others whose form in T20 is better than his. As successful teams have regularly shown, current form is king in the 20 over world.
The reality is that in the near future there will be no Ireland players in the English County setup with the possible exception of Stirling who may well be retained by Middlesex as an overseas professional.
Therefore the Interprovincial T20 tournament will become the primary vehicle for developing talent in this format. The second T20I against India saw Ireland field eight home based players with only Wilson, Stirling and Rankin still operating in England. It is imperative that the performances throughout the Interpro T20's should now be regarded as the primary criteria for selection to the International squads and not a misguided sense of loyalty to those players who are being selected on past endeavours rather than current form.
Happily this year's tournament has proved that there is plenty of talent available and given the opportunity a whole new bunch of players can revolutionise the fortunes of Ireland in this format.
Ideally there should be more than just the twelve matches that make up the current schedule but as recently noted by William Porterfield that could well upset the clubs but it is a price that may have to be paid for the good of the national side.
The weekend festival in Pembroke was a resounding success and teams being together for a number of days helped elevate the standard. The Munster team was a prime example of this as they clearly benefitted from a sustained period together and winning two of their three matches was testimony to that. I have no interest in the argument that it is not a true Munster team. The best players in the country need to be playing in this format irrespective of their origin and success will encourage others from the southern province to get involved and try and break into the team.
Pembroke was a success story because of the organisation and the superb weather certainly helped. Unfortunately I couldn't make all three days but on the day I missed it was great to watch quality live streaming courtesy of Heatley Tector and his Hbv production company.
Ideally the club T20 competitions would be played out in the first segment of the season with the Interpro's following on in weekend blocks in the height of summer. Pembroke proved the value of this and another block of six, even better if there were two more, would add context and interest to the competition. Cricket Ireland should ensure that there is always a block in both the north and south. The clubs would also benefit with the competition run along these lines as the current format for the first six matches sees Friday evening games which entails journeys the length of Ireland. The North-West v Munster matches are a 700k round trip and players are exhausted as they get back for club games on the Saturday.
The blocks would mean that teams would not be disadvantaged by tiring journeys and the standard of performance would undoubtedly be enhanced. Granted that the Pembroke games were played on a ground with a lightning fast outfield in perfect weather conditions but the standard was a distinct improvement on the first six matches.
The run rate for the first six matches was 7.2 runs per over but this shot up to 8.7 over the course of the Pembroke weekend. The latter run rate is actually 0.15 runs per over higher that the T20I rate for the year to date. Given that all but a handful of those who will represent Ireland over the next few years were playing in Pembroke it augurs well for the future provided the right players are given the opportunity.
A number of players shone through during the competition and the ten top strike rates were as follows, with a minimum of 50 balls faced.
|PLAYER||Team||INNS||RUNS||BALLS||AVE||S/R||Projected team score|
There are several veterans on that list but it is about form and the ability to score quickly on a consistent basis. Of the top six only Greg Thompson has been capped by Ireland. The leading batter from the NWW was Stuart Thompson in 14th place with 113 runs at a strike rate of 125.6.
Of the 23 players who faced at least 50 balls in the tournament Porterfield had the worst strike rate, with his 151 runs coming at a strike rate of 104.1 further reinforcing the view that he is no longer an asset in this format.
On the bowling front there have been a number of good performances despite the view that bowlers are just cannon fodder in the format.
The top ten economy rates, minimum 50 balls bowled were:
The genuine pace of David Delany and the wrist spin of Jacob Mulder and Yaqoob Ali has propelled them into the top eight bowlers with the best economy rates. These disciplines are those that Ireland is in greatest need of in order to progress. Something of a return to form from Mulder is to be welcomed as he is still only 22 but he needs to continue to work on his game.
Graham Kennedy may not have top pace but his accuracy and movement have been a distinct asset to Ireland U19's and now for NWW. By this stage of his career Eddie Richardson has become the nearly man despite having an excellent white ball record. Some health problems disrupted his season but only Tyrone Kane has a better strike rate than him throughout the tournament and with an economy rate below seven has to be considered.
Dockrell and Singh are in the top ten for both batting and bowling and given the opportunity should be team leaders for Ireland in this format over the next five years. Indeed with virtually all of the players now home based there is a strong case to be made for the captain to be based at home given that he sees the potential talent on a regular basis throughout the season.
Given his current form and his captaincy skills in leading Leinster Lightning I would advocate George Dockrell to lead Ireland in this format especially as he is of the generation of players who can take Ireland forward.
Injury or other commitments prevented Kevin O'Brien, James Shannon, Jack Tector and Josh Little being able to force themselves into the top ten of the ranking lists.
Outside of the top ten there is a cadre of energetic and talented young players eager to get the chance to show that they can deliver at the highest level. These include Harry Tector, Aaron Gillespie, James McCollum, Lorcan Tucker, Stephen Doheny, Fionn Hand, James Grassi and Neil Rock.
Some of these may turn out to be better suited to the 50 over game or indeed red ball cricket but they are playing cricket without fear and as other countries have shown age should not be a barrier if you are good enough.
The squad for the Bangladesh A T20 series should have included those who have come to the fore this season - the value of the prime national T20 competition has been devalued.
More on this later in the week.