What a day…

Many thanks to one P Baker for keeping my seat warm as I soaked up the atmosphere and (a little) sunshine at Trent Bridge yesterday. What a day it was as Ireland booked their place in the Super Eight phase of the ICC World Twenty20. It wasn’t a surprise – the Irish out fought and out thought the Bangladeshis in every discipline of the game. For those who are interested and in the Nottingham area, tickets are still available here for Ireland’s first Super Eight game against New Zealand again at Trent Bridge on Thursday. It’s a double header with England taking on South Africa later in the day and will be worth every penny (your correspondent can’t make it I’m afraid). There is the small matter of India tomorrow as a warm-up as well. You’ll find a more extensive eye-witness report of a great day for Irish cricket below the fold a little later.
Update Report is now posted, a little delayed.I love a good walk when I’m going to see some cricket. It gives me a sense of anticipation, how the fans are feeling, is the weather OK, chat about the prospects for the game – it also enables me to work up a thirst and by the time we (for Hartin Snr was in attendance) passed the Brian Clough Stand at the City Ground and crossed the Trent onto the Radcliffe Road, I was ready for a pint. Plenty of Bangladesh fans with assortments of stuffed polyester tigers were boisterously bullish about their side’s chances while the sizeable contingent of Irish supporters gave out an aroma of quiet confidence in theirs. Of course there was the usual baiting from our Australian cousins who are nothing if not a confident lot and the Sri Lankans just seemed to be enjoying themselves. The Guinness was passable and we settled into our seats just after hearing Will Porterfield had won the toss and elected to field – we both agreed it was the first thing to go Ireland’s way. Anthems prior to a cricket match were new to me and we were “treated” to a rendition of “Ireland’s Call” over the PA just after being introduced to the other entertainment of the day – the Reliance Mobile dancers. Far be it from me to give these guys and girls a hard time (there is a recession and they’re making a living) but 3 Lycra clad, baton wielding, poorly choreographed students jumping onto a podium every time a boundary is scored and gyrating in front of me is not my idea of entertainment. Maybe I was just disappointed as it was a little too chilly for crop tops and hot pants.

I always take a radio to a Test Match – as absorbing as I find the game, Tests ebb and flow and a little aural entertainment from TMS does keep the interest up during the odd period of calm. I learnt not to bother with the radio at Twenty20 as the noise is just terrific! Bangladesh got off to a rocketing start with Boyd Rankin bowling too short on a slow pitch and got carted early on by Siddique. While the Bangladesh fans cheered every boundary, the Irish contingent from the first over were cheering every dot ball as if their very lives depended on it – Irish cricket fans cheering no run after no run, a sight to behold. Trent Johnston from the Pavillion End snaffled Siddique in the second over after an overaggressive shot and should have had Ashraful in the 3rd over only for Kevin O’Brien to drop the straightforward chance at slip. The Tigers were rattling along at around 8 an over and things were getting a little nervy until Ashraful gave Kevin the chance to redeem himself with some slip catching practice – there was no profligacy this time. Pace gave way to spin after the powerplay and McCallen and West settled the ship. Tamim Iqbal was fortunately removed after McCallen fumbled the run out chance but the innings and indeed the match turned on a split second of inspiration.

Alex Cusack had come on to bowl medium pace with Niall O’Brien standing up to the stumps – Mahmudullah swung and missed and we all went “Ooohhh” and waited for the next delivery when we realised the 3rd umpire had been called for. “Must be for a stumping.” TMS gave out the news before the decision came up on the big screen – the batsman had lost his balance after the heave-ho and lifted his back foot giving O’Brien an instant to remove the bails and the 4th wicket was down (O’Brien and umpire Nigel Llong both thought he was in after the referral had been made). Ireland were in control and no boundaries were conceded for almost 12 overs while further wickets fell. The sense was that we would be chasing 125 and it was our game to lose. Mortaza had a different view and tucked into the expensive Rankin in the final over to set a below par target of 138 to win. To make matters worse Niall O’Brien has fallen awkwardly trying to effect a run-out and was down for treatment for some time – much depended on the Northants man and during the interval though the Irish supporters were confident, the nagging doubt of the underdogs was still evident.

Ireland’s reply started slowly with the returning Bray struggling to put bat to ball while Porterfield was content to hold up the other end. Bray got a shocker from Nigel Llong in the 3rd over which brought the limping Niall O’Brien to the crease and despite being in obvious discomfort hit Mortaza for 3 sixes to the short leg side boundary in the 5th over. Ireland were on top of the rate and ahead on the wicket count and the D/L – it was all looking good and my Bangladeshi friends behind me had gone awfully quiet as some of the Irish fans were tunefully pointing out to them. The spinners came on and everything became quiet and tense with the scoreboard barely turning over. Bray had come back to run for O’Brien at this stage and it was all a bit confusing with 14 players in green running over various bits of turf – certainly Simon Mann in the TMS commentary box caused a few heart attacks calling a run out when the batsmen were safely home! O’Brien on one good leg holed out to long off after a super 40 from 23 balls but when Porterfield dollied up a return chance to Abdur Razzak in the 12th over Ireland required 67 from 52 and the tension was building. It was obvious to all that the younger O’Brien was going to decide how the game would finish and when he arrived after the dismissal of Wilson Ireland were 89-4 needing another 49 off 34 deliveries. Kevin only needed 17 balls at his new home ground to decide things, flaying the demoralised Bangladeshi attack to all parts for a magnificent undefeated 39 and winning the game with 10 balls to spare, an eternity in Tewnty20. The Tigers left quietly, tails between legs while the fans in green remaining belted out “Delilah” in full voice. There was a smile of quiet satisfaction form Hartin Snr (and maybe just a hint of a misty eye?) while your correspondent is not ashamed to admit he indulged in a little “chicken dance” in the stand as Johnston had not during his spell of 3-20 which set the game up for Ireland.

We stuck around for the Australia – Sri Lanka game and it was nice to see the Aussies being teased by the “spinner” Mendis – they had no clue how to play him – but it was just entertaining without being nail-biting. I’ve been watching England playing cricket since I was a young boy and I thought I got excited watching them. It bears no comparison to watching your own team with all the drama, nerves, twists and turns that even this short, bawdy form of the game has to offer. I bumped into the ex-New Zealand opener and sage commenter on the game Jeremy Coney as he was leaving the media centre and he was effusive in his praise of the team: “Ireland! Well done! Well done!” He was right.

Ireland were dynamic and magnificent in the field (thought the catching could have been better) and level-headed with the bat. They looked like a side that KNEW they were going to win. It does pose questions about the Bangladeshi’s future though and to Zimbabwe who weren’t even there – if Ireland cannot gain full member status with the ICC, where do they go from here? They rule the associate long game, the 50 over game and the 20 over game. They’ve beaten full members in 2 different forms of the game in 2 world tournaments over 2 years and put them out of the competitions. Ireland are not good enough to be a Test side at present but they’re too good to be stuck with the other associates. This result was no fluke. It wasn’t a shock. A third way must be found to keep Ireland’s talent in green shirts and progress the game in this country starting with more funding. Get more than 2 guys centrally contracted and we give ourselves a chance to move to the next level, whatever that may be (2nd tier of a test championship with WI, NZ, Zimbabwe, Bangladesh & Kenya? Why not?).

That debate is for another time. For now, I look forward to seeing my countrymen pitting their wits against the world champions today, Pakistan (again), New Zealand and Sri Lanka later. We will probably lose all four. But maybe, if the fates decree it, we play well and someone plays badly, if the weather intervenes who knows? I don’t think this tournament is done with shocks yet and I guarantee that the Blarney Army will be taken seriously by everyone left in the tournament lest they take their eyes off the ball and “do an England”. This, I sincerely believe, is just the beginning.