T20 World Cups have never been happy hunting grounds for Ireland’s women cricketers. In four previous tournaments they have lost all 17 of their games but there are great hopes for this year’s tournament, to be staged in Bangladesh in September.

But first things first, and that means a tricky qualifying tournament in the United Arab Emirates – ‘It’s probably going to be one of the hardest qualifying tournaments that we’ve had to compete in’, says Ireland skipper Laura Delany – which starts today against the hosts.

The only World Cup Ireland missed in the last five was because they lost out to a similarly unknown Asian associate, Thailand. That 2019 Dundee defeat, by two runs, still rankles. After keeping them to 92/7 in a 17-over game – Leah Paul bowling 3-3-0-3 – Ireland fell short.
But a good start is likely today if Delany’s side plays to its undoubted potential.

Since Ed Joyce took over as head coach in 2019 Ireland have developed a powerhouse top order of Gaby Lewis (aged 23), Amy Hunter (18) and Orla Prendergast (21) who have all played vital roles in winning games against South Africa, Pakistan and Zimbabwe. Their runs will be vital in Abu Dhabi, as the middle-order has been misfiring lately.

In the new world batting rankings, Hunter is up to 20th in the world, Lewis 24th and Prendergast 37th: in comparison the highest-ranked male, Paul Stirling, is 44th.

‘Success this week would be going and putting up a really big total. Which I know we’re capable of,’ insists Delany. ‘If our top order goes out and play aggressive and fearless roles, the middle order can embrace it and the back end play their part.’

Under Joyce and assistant Glenn Querl, Ireland have a settled squad, with only Leaving Cert student Freya Sargent sitting it out and is replaced by Eimear Richardson. Now based in New Zealand where she is captain of Northern Districts, the 37-year-old made her debut before Hunter was born but rolled back the years with an impressive four over spell of 3-13 against the United States on Tuesday.

Delany has a good selection to rotate between, with the seam of Arlene Kelly, Ava Canning and Prendergast backed up by the captain herself, Richardson and improving leg-spinner Cara Murray. Kelly is ranked 26th, Delany 48th and Murray 49th, while Josh Little is the only male in the top 50 at 38th.

There are two places on offer for the Bangladesh T20 World Cup. This Global Qualifier is split into two groups of five – Ireland, have UAE, Netherlands, Vanuatu and Zimbabwe – with the top two in each group playing off. The other group carries Zimbabwe, Thailand, Uganda, Sri Lanka and dark horses Scotland,  

Delany, now the possessor of over 200 Ireland caps, is excited by their prospects, bit cautious.

‘I want us to go out there and win the tournament. It’s probably going to be one of the hardest qualifying tournaments that we’ve had to compete in – we have Zimbabwe, who we played in January but they are missing three players from that squad, and have lost others to injury.

‘Scotland have brought in five new players and we haven’t played against Thailand in the last few years, and we’ve never played against UAE and Vanuatu. So, there’s a lot of unknowns in terms of teams we haven’t come up against recently.

‘But we’re coming off the back of series wins against Zimbabwe and Scotland. If we play to our potential we can win the tournament.’

Joyce urges his charges to be positive: ‘Qualifiers are difficult, especially in T20 cricket, and we will be put in difficult situations, so we need to embrace those and be brave. Myself and some of our senior leadership group have played in many qualifiers. They are difficult and pressurised due to their knockout nature. The experiences we have gained over many years show us that we need to play positive, simple, smart cricket in every game and with our skill level, hopefully that’s enough to get the job done.’

Play starts today at noon, Irish time, with UAE a bit of an unknown quantity. They played their first international in 2018 but have won the last two Asian tournaments, beating Thailand in the final last September.

All games are streamed live on icc-cricket.com.