DUBLIN: India are the third-ranked Twenty20 International side, while Ireland are down at No.17. On the face of it, it’s a mismatch. But in Irish conditions, the difference in rankings might not be too significant. Not to forget that the Indians have just reached the country and have had only a couple of days of training. The first of two T20Is could well be a close scrap.
According to ICC, of the two teams, Ireland are more T20I ready. The Indians were all a part of the Indian Premier League 2018, but have since played only one Test against Afghanistan at home. Ireland, meanwhile, were away in the Netherlands playing a triangular T20I series against the hosts and Scotland.
True, they didn’t have the best time against the Netherlands, losing by four runs and four wickets in the two games, but Gary Wilson’s side did beat Scotland in their first game by 46 runs and then had a tied encounter in the second.
Paul Stirling was in particularly good form, hitting half-centuries in both the games against Scotland on his way to a series aggregate of 176 runs. New captain Wilson also did well with the bat, scoring 128 runs, while Andy Balbirnie was in decent run-scoring touch and Simi Singh, the debutant, shone with bat and ball. It was also heartening for Ireland to see George Dockrell, the premier spinner who had been out of form the past many months, pick up six wickets at an economy rate of 6.60.
All good signs, but Graham Ford, the coach, knows that there are concerns.
“We are trying to find answers but we are starting from almost nowhere; we are not a settled team, we don’t know what our best combinations are,” he said after the tri-series. “The pleasing thing is that there were signs of progress over the four games. I just wish we had a few more games so we could give a few guys a fair crack.”
That would have helped Ireland for sure, and similar exposure before the two-match series would have been good for India as well. They have a long tour of the region, starting with the T20I series in Ireland, followed by three T20Is, three one-day internationals and five Tests in England, with tour games in between.
But looking at the Ireland games as prep outings might not be a good idea for Virat Kohli’s team. The Irish have a history of upsetting the applecart of higher-rated teams, and India should be wary of the threat.
The good thing for India is that they have a first-choice squad to pick from. A batting unit headlined by Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli, KL Rahul, Suresh Raina, Manish Pandey, MS Dhoni, Dinesh Karthik and Manish Pandey is a formidable one in any part of the world.
India also have a solid pace attack led by Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah – the best ODI bowler in the world – Umesh Yadav, Hardik Pandya, the all-rounder, and Siddarth Kaul, the impressive uncapped swing bowler. There are spin options in Yuzvendra Chahal, Kuldeep Yadav and Washington Sundar too, and it might be tricky for the team management to leave players out.
On paper, India are the superior team. But Ireland are desperate to move up the rankings, hungry to make a statement, and have the players who can change the script of a game on their day. It should be entertaining all right.
Kevin O’Brien (Ireland): The burly all-rounder had a lean trot in the Netherlands, totalling 54 runs in four innings and not picking up a wicket. But he is an outstanding cricketer with a history of raising his game for the big occasions – most recently in Ireland’s maiden Test against Pakistan. His bowling might not be what it once was, but he can still hit the ball hard and long, and his experience and temperament are right up there.
Rohit Sharma (India): His Test career is going through tricky times, as he was left out of the one-off Test against Afghanistan. But he has been a run-scoring machine in the shorter formats for many years now, as an average of 44.55 in ODIs and 30.86 in T20Is underscore. He has been zen about his exclusion from the Test side, saying, “I am going forward with the theory of ‘whatever time I have, make it count’, but will want to create a splash in the limited-overs matches, starting with the games against Ireland.
The forecast is for blue, sunny skies and a full, uninterrupted match is expected. The pacemen have always found assistance at this venue, and expect that to be the case tomorrow as well.
Ireland: Gary Wilson (c), Andy Balbirnie, Peter Chase, George Dockrell, Joshua Little, Andy McBrine, Kevin O’Brien, William Porterfield, Stuart Poynter, Boyd Rankin, James Shannon, Simi Singh, Paul Stirling, Stuart Thompson
India: Virat Kohli (c), Jasprit Bumrah, Yuzvendra Chahal, Shikhar Dhawan, MS Dhoni, Dinesh Karthik, Siddarth Kaul, Kuldeep Yadav, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Manish Pandey, Hardik Pandya, KL Rahul, Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma, Washington Sundar, Umesh Yadav