Odran Flynn (CricketEurope)
Although they came up twenty-four short of their 270-run target, at least Ireland were not just competitive, but probably should have won the first of their three match ODI series against the West Indies in Sabina Park last night.
In recent years, the fifty over format has been the one that has kept Irelandís head above water. Although there were losses to Afghanistan, Zimbabwe and Netherlands, there were also spectacular victories over England and South Africa.
Central to those wins was the batting of Andrew Balbirnie and Paul Stirling.
Despite an erroneous claim from the otherwise excellent commentary on Sky Sports yesterday that Ireland has never lost when Balbirnie has scored a hundred, the Ireland captain took his side to a commanding position before his dismissal precipitated yet another batting collapse.
This time needing just 105 runs to win with nine wickets in hand and a very manageable fourteen overs to get them in they were dismissed off the first ball of the final over with those nine wickets only able to add eighty runs.
In the past few weeks Balbirnie has been very vocal about the state of Irish cricket especially the depth of talent and the lack of quality facilities that a Test nation has a right to expect.
Indeed, immediately prior to Ireland setting off to the ill-fated T20WC in the UAE, Balbirnie and then coach Graham Ford had a very blunt meeting with High Performance Director Richard Holdsworth to make it very clear to him their dissatisfaction with the state of the facilities that the squad was expected to practice in.
Balbirnie is also on record as saying that there are only twenty, maybe twenty-two, players of sufficient standard to compete at this level. Losing players through Covid has brought the base down to the bare bones. The absence of Stirling yesterday was quite possibly the difference between winning and losing and Simi Singh and Ben White succumbing to the virus on the eve of the match also diminished their prospects.
Having gone to ground for a full week after the shambles in Sharjah, the Cricket Ireland propaganda machine has been wound back up to full capacity with the announcement of a full review that was to be completed before Christmas, the resignation of the head coach, the appointment of a new temporary coach and then the announcement of a full-time coach.
On top of that the entire ODI series in Florida was cancelled because of Covid despite the USA players isolating in their hotel rooms while the Ireland squad, support staff and partners of players and staff were operating in what was described as a Covid Managed Event Environment. A Christmas Day party with minimal social distancing and without masks seems a very peculiar way to manage Covid and of course it did not, as several of the group caught Covid and two players could not fly to Jamaica. Unfortunately for Cricket USA the tour has cost them something in the region of $500k a large chunk of which has come out of their 2022 budget.
This on top of disturbing stories about appalling behaviour by some among the T20WC squad which appears to have been ignored by Cricket Ireland as the main culprit is on the current trip and it does not seem to be the subject of any sanction.
The so-called review, of course, has not yet seen the light of day as it apparently has gone to the High-Performance Committee which is bizarre given that is the area where most of the attention should have been focused. The report should have gone directly to the board for them to consider it first. However, who can have confidence in the report when outgoing coach Ford was not even contacted by Adi Birrell who is one of the authors of the report.
The relevance of the report is further undermined by the appointment of Henrich Malan as new head coach. It may well be that he turns out to be an excellent choice- only time will tell. However, if there was serious intent of a proper root and branch review then those who you would expect to be the subject of the review should not be making decisions about the future of Irish cricket. The very fact that they have suggests that nothing of any consequence is going to change and those in charge will continue their merry way while Irish cricket limps along from one crisis to another relying on the occasion good result to keep the Barbarians from the Gate.
There were several excellent performances yesterday. In addition to Balbirnieís 71, Harry Tector got his fifth half century all of which have come in his last eight innings. He now needs to go on and turn those fifties in centuries as only once has he got out past 58 and that was his score of 79 against South Africa last summer which was a vital component of Irelandís win.
There were also cameos with the bat from Andy McBrine, George Dockrell and Mark Adair. With the ball Ireland started and finished well but the game got away from them in the middle overs as debutant Shamarh Brooks and skipper Kieron Pollard put together a partnership of 155 which is a new fifth wicket record for the West Indies at Sabina Park.
Josh Little and Adair bowled very well and deserved more reward while McBrine was 2-3 after his first two overs but bore the brunt of Pollardís onslaught later. Curtis Campher again showed his all-round ability with a long spell of bustling medium pace that kept the run rate in check. Craig Young was to some extent flattered by his figures as he got a couple of late wickets during the late slog that actually did not amount to a lot.
With the demise of the World Super League the tension of relegation for Ireland is no longer there and the chances of them staying in the top eight is remote as all the nine sides below them, except for Sri Lanka, have at least six games in hand with NZ and Afghanistan 13 in hand.
West Indies will not be easing off as they still have a reasonable chance of qualifying automatically. Stirling should be back for the second match on Tuesday although McBrine who retired with concussion yesterday is unlikely to be available as he failed his initial concussion test. Simi Singh and Ben White will still be isolating and will miss all three ODIís. Therefore, it is probable that the only change will be Stirling for McBrine, and this will mean no proper front line spinner.
The match will be covered live on CricketEurope.
Match Summary West Indies beat Ireland by 24 runs
West Indies 269 all out in 48.5 overs (S. Brooks 93, K. Pollard 69, M. Adair 3-38, C. Young 3-56)
Ireland 245 all out in 49.1 overs (A. Balbirnie 77, H. Tector 53, R. Shepherd 3-50, A. Joseph 3-55)