When Heinrich Malan took over as Ireland’s coach at the start of this year, he was struck by an observation that provided insight into the cricket team’s current stage of development. He observed that while they appeared to have a firm grasp on the tempo of the ODI format, they struggled to keep up with the Twenty20 format’s alterations. A more fearless brand of cricket was required.
Three successive T20 World Cups had passed without Ireland qualifying for the main round of the ICC tournament. During that time, they also had a winless streak in the shortest format, which would not end until August, when they defeated Afghanistan 3-2 in a five-match series.
If that outcome was a turning point, an even clearer indication of Ireland’s improvement under Malan occurred on a Friday afternoon in Hobart last month, when Lorcan Tucker clubbed West Indies pacer Obed McCoy over the covers to secure Ireland’s spot in the Super 12 round of the T20 World Cup. The agony of not qualifying for past competitions was replaced by a sense of relief.
“When we beat the West Indies, the change room was filled with joy and relief,” Malan told Cricbuzz. “It has been a difficult 12 months for those players in the change room, not qualifying for the UAE edition of the T20 World Cup (last year).” I am aware that a few families (and fans) who attended the first round had to reschedule their travel plans at the last minute for a couple of weeks.
Having adopted a fresh strategy for T20 cricket, Ireland began to see results in the home T20I series against India, which consisted of two matches. In the second game of that series, Ireland came within four runs of accomplishing the impossible while pursuing a mammoth total of 226. Despite a few glitches in the T20I rubbers against New Zealand and South Africa, it was evident that Ireland were beginning a new adventure.
“It was evident that the boys in one-day cricket had a decent grasp of how they wanted to play,” adds Malan. “Because the how the summer was structured for us, we knew there would be a great deal of T20 cricket, so the focus was on bringing clarity to that space. And if you look at where we are now, you’ll see that we’ve likely accomplished this; we have a solid grasp of how we want to function. Process oriented (what do we want to play like as a team – fearless, adaptable and clear thinking). How we establish consistency with these behaviours (individual impacts, performance indicators and language).
“The manner in which we began against India certainly caused a great deal of surprise due to the manner in which we began playing the way we had stated we would. Then, when we played against New Zealand, there was some disappointment in our performance, so this second part of our education was likely the most disappointing. In the aftermath of our loss to South Africa, there was a small amount of resentment. The results weren’t necessarily there… crossing the finish line. This year, we’ve faced some formidable cricket squads with a wealth of experience. These summertime experiences and the manner in which we conducted ourselves prepared us well for the World Cup.”
Despite this, Ireland opened the World Cup with a loss to Zimbabwe in a night match. In a group consisting of only three contests, a single loss could be devastating. But the Ireland setup remained calm and did not touch the panic button. “I told a few individuals, ‘This is likely my first time in a qualifying knockout round.'” We have a few players with considerable experience, those who have gone through a qualification phase while playing for Ireland. In all honesty, it was simply another cricket match. We knew we had a short turnaround, so we once again concentrated on comprehending the performances we wanted to discuss.”
Even in the decisive match against Scotland, Ireland were mired in a quagmire after losing four wickets in a large chase. However, Ireland’s risk-reward ratio remained unchanged. George Dockrell, batting at number six, smashed the fourth ball he faced over the fence, and Curtis Campher soon followed suit by sending Chris Greaves into the stands. Dockrell aimed for straighter lines, whilst Campher fitted the gaps with shorter square bounds, demonstrating the team’s operational clarity. The pair played to their strengths and defeated Ireland with an over to spare.