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Ireland set for 'Everest scale' challenge as world champions Australia arrive in town

John Bracewell’s side will hope to topple Australia when the sides meet in Belfast on Thursday.

John Bracewell speaks to his players at training.
John Bracewell speaks to his players at training.
Image: Presseye/William Cherry/INPHO

- Ryan Bailey reports from Belfast

WHAT HAD PROMISED to be a fulfilling international summer on home soil has transpired into an underwhelming one but that would all change on Thursday if Ireland could topple world champions Australia in Belfast.

Few will expect John Bracewell’s side to have enough firepower in their armoury to gun down one of cricket’s heavyweights but with the onus on the visitors, this is the type of fixture Ireland have come to relish.

When the world champions are in town, the stakes are raised that bit more - although it’s not as if William Porterfield and his team-mates don’t already have enough incentive.

It’s now five years since Ireland managed to beat a Full Member nation on these isles and the performances of the last month have given rise to serious concerns over the direction this team is headed.

After the marquee fixture against England in May was washed-out, Ireland flattered to deceive in last month’s World Twenty20 qualifying campaign as they slumped to a five-wicket defeat to Netherlands in the semi-final.

Four weeks on and Ireland have the opportunity to right the wrongs of that campaign and provide a timely reminder of their credentials as a cricketing nation hell-bent on disturbing the sport’s established order.

“As a collective, we let ourselves down in that tournament,” Porterfield said on the eve of the Hanley Energy Challenge in Stormont. “There was no secret with the bat in that competition but this is going to be different again.”

William Porterfield speaking to the media Ireland captain William Porterfield speaking to the press on Wednesday. Source: Presseye/Rowland White/INPHO

Certainly Australia provide a different proposition altogether. It’s their first one-day outing since lifting the World Cup in March.

Bracewell knows his charges will need to step up their game if they’re to come anyway close to giving the visitors a run for their money and admits the game represents an ‘Everest scale’ challenge for the hosts.

And their chances of ending the summer on a dazzling high were dealt a blow on the eve of the game with the news Kevin O’Brien aggravated a hamstring injury and will miss out on the chance to win his 250th cap.

In the pre-game press conference, Porterfield insisted there were no injury concerns but O’Brien appeared to undergo a fitness test on the outfield on Wednesday before his withdrawal was confirmed shortly after.

And the absence of O’Brien won’t be the only significant squad reshuffle.

For the first time since taking over from Phil Simmons in June, Bracewell appears to be laying down his marker. Niall O’Brien will assume the wicketkeeping duties from Gary Wilson for the first time since losing the gloves under the former coach a couple of years ago.

“Nobby [O'Brien] is keeping tomorrow,” the captain confirmed. “Obviously Bracewell has come in and wanted to have a look, we have three very good keepers as we have Stuart Poynter too.

“So Nobby is going to keep tomorrow and it’s an opportunity for him and we have to work out our best way of going forward in all three formats.

“There’s been a lot of cricket played over the last couple of years, particularly Twenty20, and Nobby has missed a few of those but he’s getting the opportunity to put on the gloves in this game and that’s as far as it goes.”

Ireland were forced to train on the adjacent all-weather surface on Wednesday after heavy overnight rain in Belfast left the outfield sodden.

James Pattinson and Shane Watson Australia are in town and determined to continue their winning run. Source: Presseye/Rowland White/INPHO

It was hardly the ideal preparation for going head-to-head with the number one ranked side in the world but Ireland will be desperate to ensure the individual components – which have been in good form – come together on the day.

Given the paucity of fixtures and the limited time Bracewell has to work with his squad ahead of one-off games such as Thursday, it’s difficult to focus on particular areas and it’s often a case of hoping it all comes together seamlessly.

Australia have no such problems.

Their focus now shifts to the white ball format after a disappointing time of it in England in the Test arena. Although there are a handful of new faces in their squad, several players are coming off the back of a heavy workload – including new captain Steve Smith.

“It was really disappointing for us in the Ashes,” he said. “But I thought we finished off really nicely in the last Test to send Michael [Clarke] off on a high note, him and Chris [Rogers], so that was pretty important for us but now our focus turns to One-Day cricket and this team has been doing particularly well lately.

“Obviously our last game was the World Cup final where we had a lot of success and we want to continue that on this tour.”

It will be their first visit to these shores since 2010.

“I think they [Ireland] have certainly come a long way over the last couple of years and certainly starting to play a lot more cricket. They’ve got a game against us and a couple of games against Sri Lanka and Pakistan next year they’re not going to be an easy task for us tomorrow.”

The game starts at 10.45am and is live on Setanta Sports.

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Ryan Bailey

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