Ireland tour review

Now that the dust has settled on Ireland’s five one-day internationals, what did we learn that we didn’t already know beforehand? In truth, very little. It was very much a case of the same old, same old.

It won’t need me to tell Graham Ford and Andy Balbirnie where the matches were won and lost. We had all seen this movie before and it was an all too familiar script especially in the whitewash by Afghanistan.

It’s all very well having a plan, but an altogether different matter executing it.

“Everybody has a plan,” former heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson said. “Then I punch them in the face…”.

Ireland were certainly competitive and in all three games were at stages well in the game but ultimately came up short. In the third game indeed they were probably on top for at least 80% of the game but were let down in the last, crucial phase.

While Afghanistan’s late order regularly get them out of a hole, Ireland lack the depth and power to do the same. While there is certainly plenty of talent, when it comes down to the nitty gritty they are found wanting.

The lack of power in the Irish ranks has been a long standing problem, more evident in T20 cricket. Ireland addressed that by promoting one of the few players with the ability to clear the ropes, Kevin O’Brien to open the innings and it was an unqualified success. Not so in the UAE where they axed him for the final game, along with another player with the ability to score quickly, Gareth Delany.

On that lack of power, Afghanistan hit 32 sixes across the three games compared to Ireland’s 13, of which Paul Stirling hit 13 and Lorcan Tucker the other three.

Stirling was the stand-out performer for Ireland and has become such a mature and responsible presence at the top of the order. Matt Roller on Cricinfo has written an excellent analytical piece on his ODI batting averages split into three phases, the latter of which shows him touching an average of 50 in his last fifty innings.

A run of four hundreds in six innings takes him into exalted company amongst some of the world greats, and it’s a joy to watch him bat, taking his game to a new level. There are signs that the side aren’t far away, but are still searching for the exact blend of ingredients needed.

The dependence on right-arm medium quicks on subcontinental pitches rarely works and was shown again here. This isn’t a case of ‘hindsight being the foresight of a gobshite”, wise after the event. I said last month looking at the squad that Ireland looked to be bringing knives to a gunfight and so it proved.

Barry McCarthy and Craig Young produced a combined return of seven wickets for 443 runs.On slow pitches spin is king and even the non slow bowlers for Afghanistan were medium pacers who had great variety in their armoury. Naveen-Ul-Haq bowled exceptionally well, and reminded me of Alex Cusack. How Ireland could have used him.

The Irish spinners bowled very well, with Andy McBrine bowling as well as I’ve ever seen him at times, while Simi Singh also impressed. These two took 17 wickets at a cost of 303 runs, including five wicket hauls for both. Harry Tector in the last game showed enough that he could have an increased role to play, while Gareth Delany’s leg spin could do with some expert coaching.

Curtis Campher (178 runs), Lorcan Tucker (168), Harry Tector (115) and Simi Singh (110) all got runs at times, and showed glimpses of a middle order that could with some tweaking become established, especially in strike rates and strike rotation.

Tucker’s 83 will give him great confidence but his keeping remains very much a work in progress with some crucial missed opportunities and too many extras.

Top Run Aggregates

M I NO Runs HS Ave BF SR 100 50 0 4s 6s Runs
PR Stirling 5 5 1 420 131* 105.00 448 93.75 3 - - 37 14 420
C Campher 5 5 - 178 56 35.60 233 76.39 - 1 - 12 1 178
LJ Tucker 5 5 - 168 83 33.60 241 69.71 - 1 - 10 4 168
HT Tector 5 5 - 115 33 23.00 195 58.97 - - - 4 - 115
Simi Singh 4 4 1 110 54* 36.67 117 94.02 - 1 - 6 2 110
A Balbirnie 5 5 - 81 53 16.20 110 73.64 - 1 - 9 - 81
GJ Delany 4 4 3 53 21* 53.00 47 112.77 - - - 4 - 53
KJ O'Brien 4 4 - 27 23 6.75 33 81.82 - - - 5 - 27
AR McBrine 5 3 - 18 16 6.00 29 62.07 - - 1 - - 18
CA Young 5 3 2 12 12* 12.00 13 92.31 - - 1 - - 12
BJ McCarthy 4 2 1 5 5* 5.00 6 83.33 - - 1 - - 5
JA McCollum 1 1 - 3 3 3.00 11 27.27 - - - - - 3
MR Adair 2 1 - 2 2 2.00 4 50.00 - - - - - 2

Top Wicket Takers

M O M Runs Wkts BB Ave Econ SR 5WI 10WM W NB Wkts
Simi Singh 4 38.2 7 136 10 5-10 13.60 3.55 23.00 1 - 3 - 10
AR McBrine 5 44 2 167 7 5-29 23.86 3.80 37.71 1 - 7 - 7
BJ McCarthy 4 32 1 214 4 2-60 53.50 6.69 48.00 - - 8 - 4
C Campher 5 21 1 101 3 2-31 33.67 4.81 42.00 - - 5 - 3
CA Young 5 37 3 229 3 3-61 76.33 6.19 74.00 - - 3 2 3
GJ Delany 4 12 - 74 2 1-10 37.00 6.17 36.00 - - 1 - 2
J Little 1 7 1 27 1 1-27 27.00 3.86 42.00 - - - - 1
HT Tector 5 8 - 52 1 1-52 52.00 6.50 48.00 - - 3 - 1
KJ O'Brien 4 12 1 54 1 1-22 54.00 4.50 72.00 - - 1 - 1
PR Stirling 5 4 - 23 - 0-23 - 5.75 - - - 1 - 0
MR Adair 2 15 - 100 - 0-48 - 6.67 - - - 3 - 0

What was very noticeable was the lack of energy at times in the field. A lot of this should be coming from the keeper and the captain. The body language with heads down and low decibels was a worry. Perhaps understandable with a young side, many of whom are finding their feet at international level, but it’s something that needs to be addressed.

There was nobody better than Niall O’Brien at this and the now commentator was in the final year or two of his contract given extra money in return for coaching up and coming keepers at youth level and also the women’s team. However, despite repeated requests from him to Cricket Ireland, these sessions never took place for whatever reason. How Lorcan Tucker would benefit from Nobby’s experience. And indeed Neil Rock.

Next up for Ireland is the A team tour to Bangladesh next month. I would expect half of the 16 in the UAE will be back in a bubble, with the guys who didn’t get much game time in the frame as well as the younger guys. It’s an important tour and may give the selectors some indication of just who will be in the frame for the next senior tour of Zimbabwe.

Big Roy

It certainly was a week full of sadness and the death of Roy Torrens hit particularly hard. I’m sure the family took great comfort in the many tributes which were paid to him in the media from across the cricketing world in particular.

We had some great times together, especially away on tours and those World Cups, which will never be forgotten.

Roy loved a laugh and loved a prank. Laughter was often the best medicine and with him centre stage, people were rarely down for too long.

It’s no coincidence that the golden era of Irish cricket came with Roy at the helm as manager. He was a great ambassador for the game across the globe, equally comfortable in the presence of politicians and presidents, as children in an orphanage or hospital.

He always tried to take care of the fans and supporters, going that little bit extra, especially for those who had gone to great expense to follow the team in far flung parts.

The stories of which there are many will go down in folklore. In 2009 when the squad were being breathalysed daily during the World Cup Qualifiers, decreed that the alcohol ban should be extended to the management too. Roy got around it by palming a mobile phone and blowing into that with the players watching. Almost decapitating Geoff Howarth as he let go of the bat at short-leg and saying “I was told to throw the bat”. He made Les Dennis visit casualty with suspected broken ribs after getting him in a bear hug and swinging him around the stage after the producer of Family Fortunes told him to have a big reaction after winning the game show.

It’s hard to think of Roy without smiling and amidst the tears, that will be my abiding memory of a true legend who brought the best out of people.

Irish Cup

The Unions are still none the wiser if there will be Irish and National Cup competitions this year. It’s meant their fixture plans have been put on hold while the governing body works it out.

Of course it’s difficult in the mix of this awful pandemic to plan anything with certainty, so it’s perfectly understandable.

Given the situation at the minute it would appear that the first part of the season could well be another T20 competition, with governments unwilling to allow matches of three hours or more, except at elite level.

Very much a case for the minute of wait and see.

Women's international cricket

There has still been no word of any competitive cricket for Ireland Women. It’s been 509 days and counting since they took the field. They do hope to be in 50-over action later in the year as they play in the World Cup qualifiers in Sri Lanka. It’s been a quite incredible 959 days since they played a ODI. It’s a testament to their fortitude and spirit to keep going given the drought. Let us hope that the world returns to normal soon and they get some deserved matches.