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'We want to go out there, stick our chests out and show what we are about'

Ireland need a spark in the Twenty20 format, and are targeting a huge scalp with India in town this week.

IRELAND ARE IN desperate need of a spark to ignite an upturn in their Twenty20 fortunes, but Gary Wilson — the man tasked with leading a resurgence — believes there is confidence among the group that they can beat India at Malahide this week.

George Dockrell dejected Ireland are ranked last in the T20 standings. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Graham Ford’s side have been on a downward spiral in the shortest format over the last three years, losing 17 of their last 25 completed T20 games and in the process sliding down to last-place in the world rankings — behind UAE, Hong Kong and Oman.

The focus on achieving Test status, a decade-long journey which culminated with a gloriously fulfilling debut against Pakistan last month, means Ireland’s one-day credentials have waned somewhat in recent seasons, with Ford admitting his side ‘need to improve quite a lot.’

There are still 18 months until the World Twenty20 qualifier, but Ireland’s obvious shortcomings — with both bat and bowl — were exposed again during a tri-series against Netherlands and Scotland earlier this month.

Granted, they stopped the rot with a victory over Scotland in the third game of the series and then tied with the same opposition the following day, but one result doesn’t paper over the cracks — and there are plenty.

Defeats to Afghanistan, Netherlands, Oman, Hong King, UAE and Papua New Guinea in recent years mean Ireland sit 17th in the rankings, with sufficient evidence to suggest they have been left behind in the format when teams are now regularly scoring 200+ from their 20 overs.

There will be no hiding place against India, either, with the number three ranked side in the world, who are locked and loaded with starts such as Virat Kohli, MS Dhoni, Suresh Raina and Rohit Sharma, arriving in Dublin in ruthless form having dispatched Afghanistan in a Test match last week.

Sell-out games on Wednesday and Friday evening at Malahide are sure to be a great occasion, particularly with the current weather, but it will be a real litmus test for Ireland in this format, one which could go horribly wrong if they don’t get things right.

Nevertheless, Wilson, named captain following William Porterfield’s decision to relinquish the T20 duties, is confident his side can go toe-to-toe with India, in what will be just the fourth meeting between the sides.

“They are a very fine Twenty20 side but they have to bat and we have to bowl,” Wilson said. “If we bowl up to our best, they still have to play that no matter, whether it is Virat Kohli or Rohit Sharma or whoever it is in the world.

“On any day, anyone has the opportunity to beat anyone else and that’s the beauty of sport, the beauty of cricket. We have had some great results against England in Bengaluru and against Pakistan in the Caribbean. So tomorrow we will go in with the belief that we can turn them over.”

Wilson insisted there have been signs of improvement in Ireland’s performance in recent weeks, the wicket-keeper/batsman stressing the need for the players to go out and play with freedom.

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102-CMS04127 Wilson speaking at today's press conference in Malahide. Source: Conor Mulhern

“We have played some reasonably good T20 cricket in recent weeks , albeit we didn’t get the wins we wanted to,” he added. “But there was certainly a lot of good learning done. We’re looking forward to a big occasion.

“We have discussed with the lads the need to play with freedom and enjoy T20 cricket. We want to go out there, stick our chests out and our chins up, go toe to toe with anyone on their day, and we are playing India, probably the best T20 side in the world. We want to take them on head to head and show what we are about.”

Ireland are still very much searching for the right formula in this format, and to that end, the team Ford and Wilson pick for Wednesday’s series opener will be telling as they look to work out their best XI.

Paul Stirling has been in typically destructive form for both Ireland and Middlesex this summer, while Andrew Balbirnie, Simi Singh and Wilson himself have scored confidence-boosting runs in recent weeks.

The bowlers, too, will need to make huge improvements over the next few days with Ireland leaking too many runs in the opening powerplay overs, and falling behind the eight ball without settling into the innings.

It will be a tough task to iron all these issues out against an India side warming up for their tour of England, but Ireland have been written off before and upset the odds. It would be a good way to start climbing back up the rankings.

Ireland: Gary Wilson (captain), 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 (captain), 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.

Ireland’s T20 games against India start at 4pm on Wednesday and Friday, with tickets for the first game still available here. Both are being shown live on Sky Sports.

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Ryan Bailey

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