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Dublin: 6 °C Tuesday 22 October, 2019
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A busy summer ahead but Ireland need to start winning matches again, starting this week

After a miserable World T20 campaign, Ireland return to action against Sri Lanka this week.

Ireland have yet to beat a Full Member nation in Dublin.
Ireland have yet to beat a Full Member nation in Dublin.
Image: Tsering Topgyal

IT’S BEEN A while coming, but finally Ireland have an international summer worthy of its name.

A fixture list stocked with both quality and quantity is a reflection of Ireland’s footing on the cricketing ladder but also the manifestation of tireless work in boardrooms, engaging with prospective opponents.

The arrival of Full Member nations such as Sri Lanka and Pakistan, for two-game series, is a welcome development but this summer will provide John Bracewell’s side with a timely litmus test, across all three formats.

Additionally, Afghanistan also represent a stiff appraisal of the team’s one-day credentials at this particular juncture with a bilateral five-game series bookended by the visits of this week’s opposition and Pakistan in August.

It all adds up to twelve meaningful, and significant, fixtures in both white and red ball cricket on home soil, including an Intercontinental Cup clash with Hong Kong, before two marquee One-Day Internationals against South Africa and Australia in Benoni in late September.

It’s a stark contrast to yesteryear when Ireland were forced to feed off scraps, desperate for a touring side to make a perfunctory stopover here.

Without doubt there are still hurdles to overcome but governing bodies are far more willing to entertain the idea of playing Ireland, progress facilitated by the ICC’s expansion of the ranking table.

John Bracewell speaking to the players Ireland coach John Bracewell needs to start delivering results. Source: Presseye/William Cherry/INPHO

Yet the reality is that Ireland are rooted to the bottom of the 12-country standings, having played just eleven ODIs since their admission back in January 2015.

Last summer’s two marquee fixtures, against England and Australia, were weather-effected with the former completely washed out at Malahide.

Over the course of one sodden afternoon, the obstacles facing Cricket Ireland were laid bare. Half of the summer’s fixture list was washed away and with it went a rare opportunity to flex the muscles against one of the game’s heavyweights.

So the importance of the coming months cannot be underestimated, even if automatically qualifying for the 2019 World Cup remains a long-shot.

While watching Sri Lanka’s batting order being dismantled by England’s seam attack over recent weeks bodes well for the next three days in Dublin, it is also a reminder of the value of home advantage, especially against sub-continent teams.

Ireland’s record on home soil, both in Belfast and down south, against superiorly ranked sides is less than desirable and even last year’s World Twenty20 Qualifier exposed something of an underlying issue.

Failure to convert promising positions into encouraging victories, most notably against England and Pakistan in 2013, and even Australia in Stormont, means the wait for a first win over a Full Member nation south of the border goes on.

In fact, the last time Ireland have tasted success over a Test-playing opponent was a seven-wicket win over Bangladesh in Belfast six years ago. For all the indelible days and unprecedented success, it’s one box yet to be ticked.

Boyd Rankin bowls Nizakat Khan Boyd Rankin will play his first games back on home soil. Source: Barry Chambers/INPHO

When you consider the gravity of the current I-Cup campaign and any subsequent home and away play-off, and now the possibility of a two-tier Test system, it is imperative that Ireland make Malahide a fortress in more than just name.

There’s no reason why it can’t be. This week, as Ed Joyce recently said, is an opportunity which needs to be grasped.

Sri Lanka are a side in transition following the retirement of luminaries, such as Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara, and two games against the tourists presents Ireland with a stiff, but welcome, challenge.

Not since the 2015 World Cup, over 18 months ago now, have Ireland flexed their muscles in the 50-over format, with a series in Zimbabwe last winter leaving much to be desired.

After his initial honeymoon period, Bracewell must now get Ireland moving back in the right direction.

His hand has been restricted this week with the absence of a number of players through injury, most notably Niall O’Brien, Craig Young and Andrew Balbirnie. Stuart Thompson is also unavailable due to personal reasons.

O’Brien, still one of Ireland’s most accomplished and in-form batsmen, will be sorely missed but it opens the door for others to step up, and it’s high time those pushing for inclusion prove they can cut it at this level.

Warwickshire v Durham - Specsavers County Championship - Division One - Day Three - Edgbaston Barry McCarthy took a maiden first class five wicket haul against Lancashire last month. Source: PA Wire/Press Association Images

The likes of John Anderson, who has been in prolific form domestically, and Barry McCarthy may be thrown in at the deep end and it will be very much a case of sink or swim.

McCarthy has enjoyed a fine start to the season with Durham and has earned his just rewards with a call-up.

“I got the email a couple of weeks ago and wasn’t sure if I was reading it correctly,” the 24-year-old seamer says.

“It was just a phenomenal feeling. As a young lad growing up in Pembroke, it’s something you look up and see the older lads doing and honestly it’s just a dream come true.”

Calls for McCarthy’s inclusion have been growing louder for some time and whether or not he gets the nod on Thursday morning will be a real indication of Bracewell’s willingness to reward form over the tried and tested.

Max Sorensen offers the more experienced option and the coach and the selectors have previously been guilty of sticking with the same players. Trent Johnston, the former Ireland captain, has been heavily critical of the way certain players remain in the set-up despite consistently failing at the top level.

This Ireland side needs fresh impetus and a player of McCarthy’s ilk, a hard-working, industrious cricketer who has made a real impression in England, can almost certainly bring that to the party.

He’s been overlooked on occasions before but now the Dubliner is primed to make his Ireland debut, a moment which will make all the sacrifices worthwhile.

McCarthy left home two years ago in search of greater opportunities with Durham after impressing England all-rounder Ben Stokes in the nets during their visit to Dublin in September 2013.

India World T20 Cricket Ireland Oman Cricket Ireland are hoping for a healthy crowd this week as international cricket returns to Dublin. Source: Tsering Topgyal

“He was quite impressed and took my number,” McCarthy explains. “It all went from there really and I’m still here so I must have done something right.

“I’ve asked myself is it all worth it before and is cricket the route I really want to go down? I met Phil Simmons [former Ireland coach] in Australia last year and he asked what my situation was.

“At that time I was at a bit of a standstill but he put his arm around me and told me to keep working hard and that I would get there eventually.”

McCarthy joins up with the rest of the squad today in Malahide for one final session before Thursday’s series opener.

The benefits of touring sides coming to Ireland cannot be questioned and while more bums on seats and further media coverage can act as a measure of headway, the results need to be delivered first and foremost.

Ireland squad: William Porterfield (capt) (Warwickshire), George Dockrell (Leinster Lightning), Ed Joyce (Sussex), Tim Murtagh (Middlesex), Andrew McBrine (North-West Warriors), Barry McCarthy (Durham/Leinster Lightning), Kevin O’Brien (Leinster Lightning/Leicestershire), Max Sorensen (Leinster Lightning/The Hills), Stuart Poynter (Durham), Boyd Rankin (Warwickshire), Paul Stirling (Middlesex), John Anderson (Leinster Lightning/Merrion), Gary Wilson (Surrey).

The KPC Group ODI Series gets underway on Thursday with play beginning at 10.45am in Malahide. Setanta Ireland have live coverage of the game.

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Ryan Bailey

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