Reality Bites for Ireland
Unless you’re a student, insomniac or night shift worker, chances are you haven’t had an opportunity to watch a great deal of the events unfold in Australia and New Zealand, over the last few weeks. Each team has reached the half way point in the tournament’s group stages and as expected the pre-tournament favourites have, as good as, booked their places in the quarter finals.
New Zealand and Australia have proven extremely difficult to separate, indeed the Back Caps only overcame the Baggy Green by a single run, in a thriller in Auckland, last Saturday. Reigning world champions India, despite a winless winter in Australia, have come out of the blocks all guns blazing, destroying all before them, including the world’s third ranked side, South Africa. To confuse matters further, South Africa responded to this embarrassing defeat, to the Indians, with demolition jobs on both the West Indies and yesterday morning, Ireland. England have been shambolic, Sri Lanka and the wondrous Kumar Sangakarra the latest side to make the founding fathers of cricket sigh in their graves. You could argue their tournament is playing out like a Greek tragedy but one wonders will there be any meaningful ending? Perhaps more like a farce then.
Ireland find themselves in about as good a position as they could have hoped for at this stage of the tournament, in terms of victories, having won both games before the humbling at the hands of South Africa. However Ireland’s net run rate; as with everything in cricket, a more complicated equivalent of points for and against, except using runs; was damaged badly by the South African’s free swinging batsmen and a dual demolition job of Ireland’s top order by the world’s number one ranked fast bowler, Dale Steyn, and the in form Kyle Abbott. Ireland actually got an early breakthrough but then succeeded to drop, Hashim Amla, South Africa and the world’s second best batsman, on 10. Amla would go on to score 159, while his partner Faf du Plessis, also dropped on 19, added acid to the wound by scoring a century of his own, leaving Ireland with an unchaseable target of 412 to win. South Africa did not even need to rely on their imperious captain AB de Villiers, who though, while not a bowler, still managed to take a wicket yesterday. For those with even only a passing interest in cricket, watch this man bat before the World Cup ends. He has timing, style and power and as Lionel Messi appears to have a second longer on the ball, so the ball seems to come to de Villiers that little bit more slowly. Oh, and he’s extremely destructive and fun to watch.
Ireland in response, buckled early, losing captain William Porterfield, and the heroes of the West Indies victory, Paul Stirling and Ed Joyce, when barely into the 20s. To their absolute credit Ireland’s batsmen and particularly their bowling tail enders, stuck manfully to the unenviable task of damage limitation, taking Ireland from 48-5, potentially disastrous, to 210 all out, reasonably respectable. Unfortunately they came up against an incredibly talented juggernaut, who had been, completely unexpectedly, left for dead by India. You generally don’t need to poke a bear too many times before he jumps up and devours you. India poked the bear, so the bear annihilated the next two teams he saw, West Indies and Ireland. Law of the forest or something like that. That blip aside, the South Africans have confirmed that they will be around for the business end of the World Cup. They have become the first international side ever to post 400 runs in consecutive one day (50 over) games.
Still, like Leicester City travelling to the Etihad Stadium tonight, these are not the games that Ireland, in all honesty, will have earmarked as winnable. Ireland’s biggest game of the tournament arrives on Saturday, when they face a Zimbabwe side, who while themselves have only victory, managed to give considerably more problems to the South Africans, admittedly undercooked at the time, than Ireland did. However, this will be tempered by the fact that Zimbabwe completely blew it on Sunday against a Pakistan side who were absolutely reeling early in their innings, and even still posted a very meagre total of 235. Zimbabwe were well on course for victory before dramatically collapsing from 150-4 to 215, all out. Sunday’s snatching of defeat from the jaws of victory means the Southern Africans are as good as gone from this World Cup.
Nonetheless, they are still, at least in the eyes of the International Cricket Council; a body dominated almost exclusively by Australia, England and India; superior to Ireland and more deserving of full test status. Saturday, therefore, provides the Irish with a fantastic opportunity to confirm their status as a top eight, or at the very least, top ten calibre side. The I.C.C. in their infinite wisdom, have decided to reduce the number of teams competing in the 2019 World Cup from 14 to 10. It is an idea that seems almost ‘Blatteresque’ in its construction. The game is expanding and reaching unprecedented levels of popularity outside of the traditional strongholds so, why reduce the playing pool?
There is a serious misconception that Associate nations such as Ireland, Scotland and Afghanistan dilute the quality of the tournament and create too many one sided contests. Unsurprisingly the Associate Nations have lost more games than the Test nations at this World Cup. But, for the most part, the really non-competitive games have just as often involved two of the perceived big guns. Indeed, the biggest defeat of the group stages was a 257 run hammering, inflicted by the now firing South Africa on West Indies. And, the most humiliating defeat was suffered, and I say this with such a heavy heart, by the Irish led England. Last Friday in Wellington, New Zealand were able to chase down England’s paltry total of 123 within 12.2 overs, or to put it bluntly, with three quarters of their innings to spare. It seems the I.C.C. are considering a rethink for the 2019 tournament, which to their credit, at least, is more than the incompetents in F.I.F.A. seem willing to do, ahead of the shambolic Qatari World Cup. We’ll keep an eye on any developments in this regard.
Captain Morgan on the Rocks
England’s tournament continues to plummet into disarray. The comfortable victory over Scotland provided brief respite before Sri Lanka put them to the sword with remarkable ease on Sunday. England have made a catalogue of errors laughable enough to make even Father Ted Crilly seem competent. Their best batsman of the last ten year’s, Kevin Pietersen, is providing television commentary on this World Cup, instead of playing because, well, he’s deemed to be a prima donna, asshole. Granted, there’s more to it than that but it seems incredible that England can’t find some way to accommodate Pietersen, an incredibly gifted, game changing batsman. Sport, as we are all aware, is full of tricky characters. Surely managing these personalities is part and parcel of the, and there’s a clue here, management side of the game. Unfortunately, things really are not getting any better for captain, Eoin Morgan. Completely out of form with the bat and with his tactical decisions being derided, he has now been further criticised in some quarters of the English media for not singing God Save the Queen, before English games. Why, oh why, would any English journalist get het up about a man born and bred in Ireland refusing to sing a song about how fantastic the Queen is? We don’t do politics here on Straight Up Sport but, come on, that’s just plain ridiculous.
Anyway, as a gesture of good will, we may have just devised a solution for the I.C.C. to do away with all this furore. Give Ireland full test status, grant us automatic entry to future World Cups and let our best players come home, to represent Ireland against the cream of world cricket. Then, England can return to blaming defeat on conservative coaching, sterile tactics and the use of average players, while the best English player of his generation watches from his couch. Not to blaming it on a man who won’t sing a song that means absolutely nothing to him.