IT all comes back to progress. That’s the buzz word of Ireland head coach Graham Ford and beating the world champions in their own backyard can be only seen as positive going forward with a young squad.
Harry Tector (20) before William Porterfield (35), Lorcan Tucker (23) ahead of Gary Wilson (34) and the previously uncapped Curtis Campher (21) in front of everyone else were the biggest calls in the recent series against England and that would seem to be way ahead, generally.
“It’s been an unwritten policy if it’s a tight call between two players it is likely that the experience given to a younger player will pay us back down the line, so a lot of the time we will go with youth,” explains Ford, “but having said that it’s always important to have experienced players.
“The older guys who missed out were absolutely brilliant in helping and supporting the younger guys while the match was going and before they went in (to bat), so it’s a helluva healthy situation when that is going on. I know the senior guys were desperate to play but they made a contribution anyway.”
One of those unseen cases was Porterfield, he of the 301 caps, 253 of them as captain, sitting for virtually all of the 267 overs of the three-match series with uncapped teenager, Pembroke leg spinner JJ Garth.
“The youngsters just love talking to Porty and learning from him,” says the coach. “He was always there for the team, it’s almost like having an extra coach. He just showed what a quality bloke he is because, let me tell you, he’s in good form. He played really well in the nets but the decision just went against him. It’s great for the younger guys to see a legend like this being as positive when he is left out. Huge respect for him.
Porterfield’s successor as captain is Andrew Balbirnie and the 29-year-old has already justified Ford’s decision to break the 12-year habit.
“He has taken to captaincy right from the start. It’s so important to him,” added Ford. “It’s always a test for a captain defending a low score against high quality opposition and he had that in two games, yet still managed to find the balance to take wickets and give the bowlers protection, which is a fine line, but he did that fantastically well.
“In the second game we almost found a way back into the game (when 20-year-old Josh Little took three wickets in 12 balls) and that was down to his attacking captaincy. It’s exciting to think that he can only get better.”
Unfortunately, with no confirmed matches on the horizon and the next series due to be against Afghanistan in India - which has just posted the fourth highest death toll in this pandemic and still rising – it could force the players virtually into another lockdown situation.
“It is actually depressing,” says Ford. “We needed a couple more big games after that win but at least the mental attitude of the lads through lockdown and then preparing for the tour and the 18 days together in Southampton was impressive.
“I’ve always said that one of our strengths is that we have a real family feel to our squad, a real positive group and attitude-wise outstanding and that was a big reason why the lads were able to do something really damn exciting.”
That Ireland also gained 10 win points in the World Cup Super League from that dramatic last over finish in the final game had optimists trying to convince themselves that Ireland could even finish in the top seven and trying to work out how many wins from the remaining 21 games that they would need to qualify automatically for the 2023 finals. But Ford is keeping his feet on the ground.
“We’re not looking at the number of wins, we don’t even know when we will play next. The encouraging thing is that we know we have the ability to beat the best teams and belief is such an important part of the game,” he says.
“I’m hoping when we do get going again we can cause more upsets but I don’t think we have to worry about getting top seven, it keeps coming back the word I use so much, progress. If we are improving and getting better, increasing the gap between ourselves and some of the lesser nations then we are achieving what we want to achieve.
“Of course, I would desperately love to finish in the top seven but if we don’t but are beating big teams then we are on track for good things in the future.”