Wednesday 26 April 2017

England's attitude sharpens edge for battle of Clontarf

Gerard Siggins

IT'S less than six months since Irish cricket's finest hour, but their opponents that day just haven't learned from that humiliating defeat.

"England aren't showing us much respect," one senior Irish player told the Sunday Independent this weekend, ahead of the rematch in Clontarf on Thursday. "They're barely going to be in the country for 36 hours and they've even changed the match time to suit themselves."

In fact, the English party will be in Dublin for less than 32 hours, a stop that barely gives time for a decent whistle. They arrive in the city at 11.10am on Wednesday -- photos but no words with the Irish media, thank you -- dash to their hotel, have a trot around the Castle Avenue ground then scurry back to the hotel, and bed. Thursday's RSA Challenge will start at the ludicrously early time of 10.15am, dictated by the ECB so their world-toppers can fly home at 7.0pm.

"It's not great, is it?" said the player, who asked not to be named. "This is cricket's big chance to make an impact with the Irish people and the opposition just aren't interested in helping out. That's quite a contrast with the Aussies who were here for a week."

Last year Ricky Ponting and several members of his team stepped out on Croke Park and flayed around a few sliotars, a media opportunity that won CricketIreland an award from ICC as the 'best promotion and marketing programme'.

The sense of an irritating chore for England is reinforced by its board's decision to give team director (coach) Andy Flower the day off. When the team is picked today, expect to see some of the bigger names also taking a furlough.

"It looks like they're not taking this seriously at all," the player said. "Which is pretty stupid really, when you consider our last three games against them."

Before the victory in Bangalore in March there was a Twenty20 World Cup game that was abandoned with Ireland in the driving seat, and a three-run win for England at Stormont, in 2009.

The fact that Fingal's finest, Eoin Morgan, will be wearing blue and red next Thursday is a sore point for many Irish supporters. There was more irritation last week when England called up Ireland's spearhead Boyd Rankin for their A side.

"It's no coincidence they're doing this a week out from the game," said one observer close to the Irish camp. "They look at us as a resource to be exploited, just like the All Blacks do with Fiji and Samoa."

But while the Irish are irritated at these slights, their resolve is strong that they will repeat the victory at the ICC World Cup.

"It's going to be great day," says Kevin O'Brien, the man whose 50-ball century turned around the game in the Chinnaswamy Stadium.

"I've been focusing on it for a couple of weeks now, and the fact that England are playing such great Test cricket will add a bit more to the occasion. But one-day cricket is a different game and we can definitely pull it off again."

O'Brien is particularly heartened by the form of the Irish players in England which is almost uniformly good. "Everyone's in great nick over here, while the boys back at home have been looking good for their clubs. Whatever happens, it's going to be a great day."

George Dockrell, who made his debut with high-flying Somerset last week, has heard a lot about the World Cup in that corner of England where he now plays.

"There's plenty of talk about what we did in India; people are always asking about it. They don't want to talk about the Bangalore game that much though, even when I keep bringing it into conversation."

Dockrell was one of the stars of that tournament, claiming some top-drawer wickets in Sachin Tendulkar, MS Dhoni and Andrew Strauss. But the Rathmines teenager fell awkwardly in the final game in Kolkata and dislocated his shoulder. "That was very hard," he said this weekend. "It was more than two months before I was back playing. It's fine now, I don't even think about it when I'm bowling."

Dockrell linked up with the county club and had an extended run on their 2nd XI, before he was called up for the senior side last Sunday. He had a spectacular debut, taking three wickets in five overs, and held his place for the championship game against Nottinghamshire. "It's been really enjoyable to play at this level," he admits, "but I'm still learning and this is a great club to do that."

Dockrell has been promoted because Indian star Murali Kartik has been injured. If the spinner doesn't recover, the Dubliner could make an appearance on twenty20 finals day next Saturday.

But Dockrell, too, has been focusing on the historic fixture in Clontarf, the first time an England side has visited the Republic. "I'm just working on getting to my peak in time for the game. I have a good feeling about it though, and we know their players quite well."

Somerset keeper Craig Kieswetter is in the England one-day squad and has been asking Dockrell about what he can expect. Dockrell wasn't given anything away, but he can look forward to another gala occasion in Dublin 3 and a track that will offer the slower bowlers some assistance.

Dockrell is of a different generation to Eoin Morgan, who had already played for England before Dockrell's Irish debut. Oddly, Morgan has a poor record at Clontarf,

having never scored even a half-century there in club cricket and making no more than 37 there for Ireland.

Dockrell will be keen to add his wicket to his growing collection, crowning a year that has seen him emerge as one of the new stars of world cricket. His frustrating summer is symbolic of a difficult period for Irish cricket as a whole. The scandalous omission of associates from the 2015 World Cup became a battle that was fought hard -- and won -- but took away energy and resources. The international programme was shorter than usual, with rain robbing Ireland of a rare chance to play Sri Lanka, and administrative cock-ups in Africa preventing Namibia from travelling here.

This week's RSA Challenge is the first chance for Dublin fans to see the heroes of Bangalore. Although they play a four-dayer and two ODIs against Canada next month -- and another four-dayer in Belfast -- the schools will be back and an opportunity missed.

But on Thursday there won't be any concerns about empty seats -- every one of the 4,800 was sold months ago and a serious black market is already in full swing. The early start will probably mean a far greater weight will be placed on winning the toss, and if William Porterfield calls correctly, then Messrs Cook, Pietersen and Morgan will be in for a testing morning.

It's nearly a thousand years since the Irish repelled the foreign invaders at Clontarf -- and while there are unlikely to be any axes wielded in the corporate tents next Wednesday, the visitors will certainly know they've been in a battle.

Sunday Indo Sport

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