Monday 25 September 2017

Small mercies in short supply as Ireland edge towards D-day

Ireland's Peter Chase of Ireland during the One Day International match between Ireland and Bangladesh in Dublin. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Ireland's Peter Chase of Ireland during the One Day International match between Ireland and Bangladesh in Dublin. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

Ger Siggins

Thank God it's not Friday. If there's any small consolation for Ireland's cricketers it's that the last game of the Walton Mini-Series is being played on a Sunday. They've turned out on each of the last three Fridays and there's been nothing to write home about.

In Bristol two weeks ago Ireland's performance reached what most observers thought was a new low, but two days ago the side slumped further still. With just Boyd Rankin missing from their strongest possible side, Ireland lay down in the face of a decent, but far from exceptional, Bangladesh outfit.

For several seasons the players have demanded that Cricket Ireland and the ICC provide them with bigger and better opponents, but now greater challenges have arrived their fortitude has crumbled. Heavy defeats to Afghanistan - 7-2 over all formats - were accompanied by complaints that conditions were alien, pitches were doctored, and Rashid Khan's mystery spin was world-class.

But in Dublin, on pitches as green as their shirts and with a chill wind blowing, there was little such complaint from Bangladesh. They struggled in their first, abandoned, game but by the time they got to Malahide on Friday they had acclimatised and blew Ireland away on all fronts.

After posting just 181, Ireland came out to field as if they were playing in a library. The usual encouragement of team-mates and delighting in their successes was muted. I've never seen an Ireland side look as reconciled to defeat from ball one. The responsibility for that falls on coach, captain and performance department, and it now looks inevitable that changes need to be made to break the cycle of defeat.

Six weeks ago, Cricket Ireland's High Performance Director, Richard Holdsworth, turned up the heat on head coach John Bracewell: "John's future and us considering his future will of course very much depend, not so much on results, but the manner in which we go about things," he told the42.ie. "It will depend on how competitive we are. If we're highly competitive and lose games closely then that's a huge improvement but what we don't want to be seeing is that we're well beaten in these games and therefore not being competitive.

"He has my full support but results are results and there haven't been some good results and therefore this summer is very important for that."

Since then there have been defeats by seven wickets, 85 runs, 51 runs, four wickets and eight wickets, with one game rained off. Ireland have been only fleetingly competitive, while last Sunday's defeat to New Zealand was the only time it has ever looked like they had any chance of a shock win.

After today's game with the Black Caps the summer programme is thin, with a four-day game with the Netherlands the only confirmed fixture until the West Indies visit in September. But the real action will take place at Lord's in four weeks when the ICC vote on Ireland and Afghanistan's promotion to Test cricket.

To get there would be a stunning achievement but let no one be under any illusion - because the highest form of the game is also the most exacting - Ireland will face a grim baptism on the field.

Sadly, the blooding of those who will have to take those first steps has been postponed because of the stasis in the leadership, and will be all the harder on account of it.

Ireland v New Zealand, Tri-Nation Series ODI,
Malahide 10.45am. Live on eirSport

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