Was Ireland’s victory over Afghanistan on Tuesday their greatest win in a T20 international?
Coming eight weeks after beating West Indies, the current world champions, in their own backyard, it may seem a daft question but in conditions so foreign to Ireland and so favourable to Afghanistan and their world-class spin bowlers, to win in India at the 10th time of asking was surely the greater achievement.
It may have needed a Super Over before they could celebrate but it proved that Ireland have players who, on a going day, can bowl at the death. And that has been Ireland’s failing ever since they were mauled by Netherlands at the World T20 in 2014.
In Paul Stirling, Kevin O’Brien, Andre Balbirnie, Gareth Delany and now Harry Tector, top scorer in the three-match series against Afghanistan, they have a top five who can score fast runs and also clear the boundary. That was known before this trip.
But now they have Craig Young, who after an impressive 19th over in the match was entrusted with the Super Over – and conceded only eight runs – and Josh Little whose last over won the match against West Indies in Grenada, plus Barry McCarthy who came off his sick bed to replace strike bowler Boyd Rankin and concede just 21 runs against the Afghans.
The spin bowlers also played their part with Simi Singh and Gareth Delany putting their hands up to take over from George Dockrell.
Seven months out from the T20 World Cup in Australia – where they have to win two matches against Sri Lanka, Oman and Papua New Guinea to reach the Super 12 against the top eight ranked sides – it looks as if Ireland could have a T20 squad which can be competitive.
The weak link in the team at the moment is the lack of big-hitting in the middle order as O’Brien acknowledged after Tuesday’s victory, his 131st T20 international.
“That’s going to be a big thing, especially for me as a senior player,” he said, “to give the younger guys some knowledge and try to help them step up and really contribute to putting Ireland into big winning positions or chasing scores when batting second.”
Ireland’s next T20 action is scheduled to be three games in Zimbabwe in three weeks’ time and that squad, likely to be boosted by Mark Adair, David Delany and Jacob Mulder, will travel with confidence.