Monday 11 December 2017

Cricket: Crunch time for Blarney Army

Gerard Hughes

Tomorrow is D-Day. Set the alarm for 4.0am, put on a lucky shirt, take the morning off work and cheer Ireland towards the World Cup quarter-finals with a victory over the West Indies in Mohali.

Can it be done? Ed Joyce and his team-mates have told us all along that they have what it takes to reach the last eight and yesterday there was the same unshakeable belief in the Irish camp.

It is a quiet confidence that the big hitters from the Caribbean could be cut down to size, and also that Trent Johnston's badly bruised knee will not keep him out of the fray.

"It's a make-or-break match for us, we know that," said Joyce. "We have to win two of our last three matches, but we've played good cricket to this point and we've done our homework on the West Indies so we're looking good going into the game.

"Again we're going to be underdogs, there's no doubt about that. They've got match winners all over the park -- the likes of Chris Gayle and Kemar Roach, who have been brilliant in the tournament so far -- but we've got match winners too, if a little less heralded."

Joyce could have added Shiv Chanderpaul and Kieron Pollard too -- the former a canny and very experienced left-hander like himself, the other an awesome but often reckless biffer.

If either Gayle, at the top of the order, or Pollard, lower down, were to find the middle of the bat for 10 or 12 overs, the game could quickly and irretrievably slip away from Ireland.

Yet the biggest danger probably lies in the express pace of quick bowler Roach, who helped blast out Bangladesh for 58 in Dhaka to give the West Indies their second win in Group B.

Ireland do not often face such speed, but Joyce isn't fazed by the challenge. "We've got to come up with a way of combating Roach and we've got a good idea how we're going to do it," he said.

"We've lost wickets early on in every game, so we haven't quite got that bit right and it's important we make a good start here."

One thing Joyce won't have to do is face Roach under floodlights as the game starts at 9.30am local time -- the only group match Ireland are scheduled to play during daylight hours.

Whether under sunlight or artificial light, Ireland have excelled at their fielding, to the point where they can claim to be the best in the tournament.

It was a feature of the 2007 World Cup, where former coach Adi Birrell told his squad that while Ireland may not be able to match the very brightest talents in the world game with bat and ball, they could set standards in the field.

"It's something we pride ourselves on," Joyce explained. "We got a lot of good press after the India game and I think it was well deserved -- not too many catches have gone down and we've thrown ourselves around and saved a lot of runs."

The Sussex batsman is less pleased with his personal form after scores of 16, 32 and four from his first three competitive innings back in the green shirt after a five-year stint with England.

Contribution

"It hasn't gone quite to plan for me in the first three games but I'm hoping I can make a contribution here," he added. "Having said that, I'd happily take two noughts and two wins if that's what it took to get us through."

The West Indies are only two places above Ireland, at No 8 in the ODI rankings, and are one of the three Test teams coach Phil Simmons targeted when Group B was drawn. The other two were Bangladesh (lost by 27 runs) and England (won by three wickets).

Ireland still have to play South Africa and the Netherlands in Calcutta next week -- but a defeat tomorrow in Group B would effectively spell the end of the quarter-final dream.

Ireland v West Indies,

Live, tomorrow, Sky Sports 1, 4.0am

Irish Independent

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