ON the eve of Ireland’s first T20 action of the year and just 93 days before the start of the T20 World Cup in India, the ICC have rearranged the groups for the tournament postponed from last year.

It has done Ireland no favours because while they still in the four-team preliminary group headed by Sri Lanka, their other opponents are now Netherlands and Namibia, instead of Oman and Papua New Guinea.

Suddenly any confidence the Ireland players and supporters may have had of progressing to the Super 12s – only the top two go through - has waned with the game against the Dutch bringing back memories of the Oranjemen’s sensational match-winning chase at the 2014 edition and they also won the qualifying tournament in the UAE, after beating Ireland in the semi-final.

Ireland captain Andrew Balbirnie described the decision as “strange” but the ICC explained its rationale by saying the revised groups are based on the team’s rankings as of March 20, 2021.

“The ICC make the call, we just play by the rules, there’s not much we can do. We are still going to be there and have an opportunity to progress and will deal with that when we get there,” said Balbirnie.

Tomorrow’s action at Malahide will be Ireland’s first T20 international for 16 months, although the players were involved in back to back weekend festivals at inter-provincial level last month. However, Balbirnie admits facing South Africa will be a big step up, but perfect preparation in the countdown to their return to the UAE for the World Cup in October.

“We’re excited,” added the captain. “We’ve had a pretty good week (drawing the World Cup Super League series 1-1) and this week will be a good challenge for us as they have just come off the back of a successful T20 trip in the Caribbean, which is not too far away from when we last played T20 cricket (which they also shared 1-1).

“We have eight home games before we go away so will be looking to see our best combinations and best squad is for the World Cup. It’s a quick turnaround to get into T20 mode but three games against South Africa is exciting for this group.

The second and third games are at Stormont on Thursday and Saturday, all starting at 4pm.