Ireland may have lost their first World Twenty20 warm-up match to a strong New Zealand side at Derby but National Coach Phil Simmons will have been encouraged by what he saw. Indeed, this was Ireland's best performance in the shortest form of the game since their first, against Bangladesh A at Eglinton last June, and certainly a major improvement on their games in the qualifying tournament for next month's finals.
Halfway through their innings, Ireland were on an imposing 80 for one, despite just 10 runs coming off the first three overs, as Jeremy Bray and Paul Stirling played shots of which any world-class batsman would have been proud. Stirling was the first to go, in the ninth over, for 29 from 22 balls while Bray reached 48 from 43 with seven fours in his best innings since his return to Ireland colours. Unfortunately, the introduction of Jesse Ryder, in the 14th over, was New Zealand's trump card and two overs later he had taken three wickets for four runs to rip the heart out of the Ireland innings.
Thanks to John Mooney's clean hitting at the end, Ireland managed 30 off the last four overs but a total of 152 is below par in most T20 games. This was to be no exception.
Ryder and McCullum are two of the most destructive batsmen in world cricket and after conceding the first six of the innings, Peter Connell did well to trap McCullum next ball, well held at mid-on by debutant Nigel Jones. But Ryder, perhaps with a point to prove after Ireland dispensed with his services just two matches into the 2007 Friends Provident Trophy - well, he didn't turn up for his third match - threatened to take the game away from his former team-mates. Connell, however, struck again, literally at first, to hit Ryder where it hurts most and two balls later, obviously still not comfortable, Jesse edged to Bray, wearing the gloves.
The rest of the match belonged to Ross Taylor, one of four survivors from the New Zealand team that torched the Ireland attack for 402 in Aberdeen in the ODI last July. That day he hit 59 from 24 balls with nine boundaries, yesterday he scored 74 and faced just 36 balls including eight, mostly huge, sixes. The only bowler to tame him, until his very last delivery, was Jones, the 27 year old Civil Service North captain playing against his birth country. He ended with the most economical figures and bowling is supposed to be the weakest of his two disciplines.
Down to bat at No 9 he never got a chance but his short of a length bowling proved difficult to get away and he seems set to have a long international career. In the short- term, though, he is not even in the World Twenty20 squad.
Ireland were actually without six of their finals line-up - Kyle McCallan and Andrew White have yet to join the squad, and will miss the game against a PCA Masters XI at Wormsley Park, and four of the five professionals are still with their counties. In the absence of both William Porterfield and Kyle McCallan, Trent Johnston was captain for the 49th time but as tjhe PCA match is not a capped match, he may be stuck on that total for a while.
Reinhard Strydom and Fintan McAllister were left out of the 13 at the ground yesterday. The one surprise addition to the team, apart from Andre Botha playing his first game of the summer, was Kevin O'Brien, who made the short hop from Nottingham. Batting at three, he made a run-a-ball 16 before skying Ryder to mid-on. He opened the bowling but his one comeback over disappeared for 22, three of them sixes by Taylor. O'Brien, and Ireland's only consolation is that there will be many more maximum hits to come over the next month of this hectic, thrill-a-minute form of the sport.