'It's England next, so everybody will be motivated'
IT was déjà vu all over again for Irish cricket followers for just a couple of hours on Friday morning. Four years after the stirring exploits at the World Cup in the Caribbean, Ireland's cricketers were back in giant-killing mode as Bangladesh floundered in the face of a teenage left-arm spinner.
But while the Boys of 2007 were able to complete the job against Pakistan, this time the Irish batsmen fell 27 runs short at the Sher-e-Bangla stadium in Dhaka.
The mood in the Irish dressing room was sombre for 40 minutes after the game, but the players perked up on the way back to the hotel. "It took hours because 100,000 Bangladeshis came out to celebrate. That really gave us a kick," Trent Johnston told the Sunday Independent yesterday from Mumbai Airport. "I can't imagine what it would be like if Bangladesh ever won the World Cup."
It was after 1.0am when the team got back to their hotel, and were then faced with packing their bags once more for a crack-of-dawn flight. With the type of itinerary that makes sense only to sports administrators, the 1,100-mile distance between Dhaka and Bangalore was bridged by flights to Mumbai (1,200 miles) and on to Bangalore (another 520 miles).
The southern Indian city is home for the next 10 days, with two enormous fixtures against England on Wednesday and India next Sunday.
Coach Phil Simmons has no concerns about getting his team back in the groove after such a heart-breaking defeat. "It's England. Everybody will be motivated for that," said the former West Indies Test star. "The one thing about these guys is that it's not hard to pick them up after a defeat, especially for a game against England. When we get back out on the training ground we'll sort a few things out and be ready for the next game."
Having fielded like the tigers that still roam the Bangladesh countryside, Ireland rocked the home team with stunning catches, stumpings and acrobatic run-outs to dismiss their highly-rated batsmen. The total of 205 relied heavily on the out-of-the-blocks start of the Bangladesh openers, and a frustrating middle-order stand of 61.
The veteran Andre Botha reprised his heroics against Pakistan in 2007, while Trent Johnston recovered well from that bruising start. That pair, and John Mooney on his 100th appearance, cannily took the pace off the ball.
When Ireland came to bat, a strange fecklessness seemed to infect the batsmen. Footwork was found wanting and outrageous shots attempted when there was no need to do so.
The annoying thing is that Ireland were always comfortably on target to make the runs, and were bowled out with five overs left, all of which were 'powerplays'. But Simmons had no doubt where the blame lay: "Shot selection was our biggest downfall," he admitted.
"We needed one of the top five to bat through," said Johnston, "No-one means to get out, but our shot selection was poor."
While the game was lost by the batsmen, there are problems with the bowling that need to be addressed. Boyd Rankin struggled to find his line -- understandable when bowling to such a destructive batsman as Tamim Iqbal -- but it defied logic that his captain kept returning to him on what was clearly not his day.
Rankin's bounce and pace was utterly defused by the slow wicket and William Porterfield should have looked elsewhere for those 'death' overs. Rankin's return of 9-0-62-0 stuck out like a sore thumb in a generally efficient attack.
There is also the mystery of Ireland's missing spinners. While 18-year-old George Dockrell was wowing Ian Botham and many others, Paul Stirling was used sparingly and Andrew White not at all. Last summer, Stirling took 2-34 (including the scalp of Ricky Ponting) in 10 overs against Australia, but on Friday his captain clearly did not have enough faith in him on a helpful track. He only bowled four overs, which cost just 13 runs. Bangladesh bowled 34 overs of spin, Ireland 14; the home side's spinners took six wickets, Ireland's two. In a close game, that was decisive.
Dockrell certainly attracted much attention -- the English county of Somerset will be delighted they had tied him down to a two-year contract before the tournament began. Former Ireland captain Johnston, 36, distantly related by marriage to Dockrell, was full of praise for a team-mate half his age.
"George was great -- he was one of the main reasons we got back in the game. For such a young guy he has a great head on his shoulders. I'm chuffed for him," said Johnston.
Dockrell and Ireland now face five fixtures in the land where spin bowling is a revered art. "That performance will give him massive confidence ahead of the big games to come," said Johnston. "Bangladesh treated him great respect and when we come to play India -- who also have great players of spin -- that will give him a great boost."
All hope is not lost, although Ireland will need to beat two of the "big boys", plus Holland, to progress.
"This group is wide open," insisted Porterfield. "There will be other big teams losing to smaller teams in this group, so we're still confident. It'll be tight for that fourth spot."
The game against England is now pivotal: "They have a lot of quality players, and no obvious weaknesses," said Johnston, "but I think if we can put together partnerships with bat and ball we can put them under serious pressure. I was in Australia for the winter and I saw that when they were up against it in the one-day games they didn't know what to do."
While the diehard fans keep harking back to the 2007 World Cup, Johnston insists this is totally different. "Back then we were amateurs, representing our country and enjoying the moment. We loved the hype, the travelling, the media attention. But now we're used to all that -- it's quite different," he said. "Ten of the team are full-time professionals. We consider ourselves one of the big boys now."
Sunday Indo Sport