Monday 19 March 2018

Bid to claim a place at next World Cup starts with England clash

John Bracewell won't take the reins on Friday, but the new coach has a lot to exercise his mind in the years ahead

John Bracewell has a record of making teams perform above themselves
John Bracewell has a record of making teams perform above themselves

Ger Siggins

The England team that returns to Malahide on Friday for their biennial visit has a slightly underwhelming look to it. That's mainly because, just 36 hours previously, another team called England will finish the third Test of a series in the Caribbean.

Sometime this weekend, those players not required in Barbados - Adil Rashid and Mark Wood - will jet home to join the 11 men selected for Dublin, who already include five uncapped players. One man who will be watching the last ball in Bridgetown will also be there for the first ball in Fingal. The turmoil at the top of ECB cricket requires England coach Peter Moores's presence for reasons of PR optics.

Irish cricket has a new head coach too, but although he will be at Malahide he won't be taking the reins. John Bracewell's name was first mentioned in the Sunday Independent after Phil Simmons resigned in March, the all-rounder being a strong candidate with international playing and coaching experience with New Zealand. Bracewell (57) also coached Gloucestershire, where he worked with Ireland players William Porterfield and Kevin O'Brien.

"He's a very good choice," said O'Brien this weekend. "He's very keen on the spirit of the game and doesn't like any messing with it. He's very good on the small details too."

Bracewell has a record of making teams perform above themselves. He transformed a small, down-at-heel county that had won one trophy in the 20th century into one-day kings, collecting seven titles in four glorious summers. His own nation of 4.4 million souls, whom he coached from 2003-08, has always struggled against the leading Test teams, but Bracewell delivered some notable wins and three global tournament semi-finals.

He also had some high-profile detractors, including New Zealand great Martin Crowe, who called for his sacking and labelled him "a smart arse". The new coach had a great knack of rubbing Australians up the wrong way too.

In 2005, Mark Waugh compared him to his own country's coach John Buchanan: "shrewd, calculating and reserved . . . everything John Bracewell is not, and I feel he is a detriment to his team. As a player, he was aggressive and abrasive and it seems he hasn't mellowed."

Shane Warne also had a go: "[New Zealand] are a very good side and I think they're very well led by Stephen Fleming," he said. "I won't say well led by their coach . . . the coach is probably pretty embarrassed with what he's been saying lately. As far as their players are with John Bracewell, I'm not sure how they're getting along with him." But his own players were generally positive about him, although when results turned sour he was let go. Four other coaches followed in the following five years as the players flexed their muscles.

O'Brien sent his new boss a congratulatory text on Wednesday and got back a message saying he was looking forward to getting stuck in and getting his hands dirty. There may well be a need to get his hands dirty, too, with several areas of concern as he takes over with the instruction to lead Ireland into the Test arena. This summer sees a qualifying tournament for the World Twenty20 but he will spend this week assessing his resources ahead of the four-day Inter-Continental Cup game against UAE in June.

The bowling department is long on potential but short on experience after a World Cup in which the two best youngsters weren't asked to play. Now there are doubts about the fitness of Tim Murtagh and Andy McBrine, which could reopen old wounds in the men who were forced to shoulder the attack Down Under.

Their English opponents are also stronger in the batting department, with the likes of James Vince, Jason Roy, Alex Hales and David Willey all heavy scorers and big hitters.

"This is probably the way England are going to go in the future," reckons O'Brien. "Joe Root and Moggy (Eoin Morgan) will come back in too which will make it a very strong batting line-up. Alex Hales is in amazing form, he's scored a double century and 192 already this season. It's going to be very tough and I expect it will be a high-scoring game."

After a World Cup in which Ireland picked up two more Full Member scalps, O'Brien doesn't think his team have anything left to prove: "We've made our point now its most important that we get wins and start moving up the ladder so we qualify automatically for the next World Cup."

In front of what will be a near-sell-out crowd of 10,000, next Friday will be a good day to start that climb.

Ireland: W Porterfield (capt, Warwickshire), A Balbirnie (Middlesex), A Cusack (Clontarf), G Dockrell (Somerset), E Joyce (Sussex), A McBrine (Donemana), J Mooney (Balbriggan), T Murtagh (Middlesex), K O'Brien (Railway Union), N O'Brien (Leicestershire), P Stirling (Middlesex), S Thompson (Eglinton), G Wilson (Surrey), C Young (Bready).

England: J Taylor (capt, Notts), Z Ansari (Surrey), J Bairstow (Yorkshire), S Billings (Kent), T Bresnan (Yorkshire), S Finn (Middlesex), L Gregory (Somerset), A Hales (Notts), J Roy (Surrey), J Vince (Hampshire), D Willey (Northants), A Rashid (Yorkshire), M Wood (Durham)

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